Statement of Health Officials in Support of Improved
Warning Label Requirements for Alcoholic Beverages

Alcohol is a major factor in massive public health and safety problems in the United States. It is implicated in the three leading causes of death among young people in America and involved in more than 100,000 deaths and more than $185 billion in economic damage. Alcohol consumption is a totally preventable cause of fetal injury, including mental retardation and physical deformities, and a significant contributor to death and disability in traffic crashes. NHTSA reports that among 15-20 year olds, 6,374 were killed in auto accidents in 1999. Alcohol use was cited in 2,238 of those fatalities, the highest level since 1996.

Warning statements on alcoholic-beverage containers, mandated by law since 1989, provide one important component of a comprehensive public-health effort to reduce alcohol problems by raising awareness of, and educating the public, including drinkers, about certain risks related to alcohol consumption. Labels are an effective means for consumers to become informed about a product and any unique characteristics associated with the product.

Unfortunately, many warning labels on alcohol products today fail to meet even minimal design standards to attract consumer attention and convey their important message. Many warning messages currently approved by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) are not readily legible under ordinary conditions and do not appear separate and apart from all other information on the label, as required by BATF regulations implementing the Alcohol Beverage Labeling Act of 1988. We believe that more prominent, legible, and conspicuous warning messages are necessary to better inform consumers of the noted risks of alcohol consumption and to comply with the intent of Congress when it mandated warning messages.

Therefore, we call upon the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to issue proposed rules outlining requirements for improved warning messages on alcoholic-beverage labels. At a minimum, those rules should mandate that:

  • the warning message be in a prominent place on the product label and appear consistently in a horizontal position;

  • the warning message be surrounded by a lined border;

  • the words "GOVERNMENT WARNING" appear in capital letters and boldface type that is at least 15% larger than the remainder of the message, which would be printed in upper and lower case letters.

We urge BATF to consult with the Surgeon General, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and the Federal Trade Commission in the formulation of new warning label design requirements.

Health Officials In Support Of Improved
Warning Labels On Alcoholic Beverages*

Former Surgeons General

C. Everett Koop, MD, D. Sc.

Medical School Deans

John T. Harrington, MD, Dean
Tufts University School of Medicine
Boston, MA
Allen S. Lichter, MD, Dean
University of Michigan Medical School
Ann Arbor, MI

Ilka Rios Reyes, Student Dean
Medical Sciences Campus
University of Puerto Rico
San Juan, PR

Donald E. Wilson, MD, VP & Dean
Maryland School of Medicine
University of Maryland
Baltimore, MD

Francisco M. Joglar, MD, Dean
School of Medicine
University of Puerto Rico
San Juan, PR

Nathan A. Berger, MD, Dean
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University
Cleveland, OH

Jan Reese, Associate Dean
Student Affairs
The Chicago Medical School
North Chicago, IL

Russel E. Kaufman, MD, Vice-Dean
Education & Academic Affairs
Duke University School of Medicine
Durham, NC

Dr. Robert Kreisberg, Dean
VP--Medical Affairs
University of South Alabama
Mobile, AL

Dr. Wanda I. Colon Ramirez, Faculty
University of Puerto Rico
San Juan, PR

John D. Crissman, MD, Dean
School of Medicine
Wayne State University
Detroit, MI

Dr. Manuel Martinez Maldonado, President & Dean
Ponce School of Medicine
Ponce, PR

Marta Rivero, Asst. Dean
School of Nursing
University of Puerto Rico
San Juan, PR

Public Health School Deans

Dr. Charles S. Mahan, MD, Dean
College of Public Health
University of South Florida
Tampa, FL

Dr. Kenneth J. Bart, Dean
Graduate School of Public Health
San Diego State University
San Diego, CA

Peter J. Levin, Sc.D., Dean
School of Public Health
SUNY, University at Albany
Albany, NY

Dr. Patricia W. Wahl, Dean
School of Public & Community Health
University of Washington
Seattle, WA

Allen Rosenfield, MD, Dean
Mailman School of Public Health
Columbia University
New York, NY

James W. Curran, MD, Dean
Rollins School of Public Health
Emory University
Atlanta, GA

Antonio R. Silva, MD, Dean
Graduate School of Public Health
University of Puerto Rico
San Juan, PR

William L. Roper, MD, Dean
School of Public Health
University of North Carolina
Raleigh, NC

Robert O. Valdez, Ph.D., Dean
School of Public Health
MCP Hannemann University
Philadelphia, PA

State Health Officials

Thomas Davis, Director
Maryland Alcohol & Drug Abuse Admin.
Catonsville, MD

Leslie M. Beitsch, MD, JD, Commissioner
Oklahoma Dept. Of Health
Oklahoma City, OK  

Garten E. Pollard
Missouri Dept. Of Mental Health
Jefferson City, MO

Douglas E. Bryant, CommissionerSouth Carolina Dept. Of Health & Enviro. Control
Columbia, SC

Jan Malcolm, Commissioner
Minnesota Dept. Of Health
St. Paul, MN

Kenneth A. DeCerchio, MSW, Director
Substance Abuse Program
Florida Dept. Of Children & Families
Tallahassee, FL

Dan Anderson, Division Administrator
Montana Dept. of Public Health Services
Helena, MT

Patricia A. Nolan, MD, MPH, Director
Rhode Island Dept. Of Health
Providence, RI

Leah M. Devlin, DDS, MPH, Interim Director
North Carolina Dept. of Health & Human Services
Raleigh, NC

American Society of Addiction Medicine State Officials

Mark L. Kraus, MD, President

Michael Fox, DO

Ronald Paolini, DO
ASAM--South Carolina

Lance P. Longo, MD

John Epling, MD

William F. Haning, III, MD

Harley J. Harber, MD

Richard F. Limoges, MD

Richard Irons, President

Michael DeShields, MD
ASAM--New Jersey

R. Dewayne Book, MD, President
ASAM--North Carolina

State Alcohol & Drug Abuse Directors

Michael Duffy
Acting Assistant Secretary
Office of Addictive Disorders
Baton Rouge, LA

Kathryn P. Jett, Director
Calif. Dept. Of Alcohol & Drug Programs
Sacramento, CA

Ben Brown, Deputy Commissioner
Oklahoma Dept. of Mental Health
& Substance Abuse
Oklahoma City, OK

Kim Johnson, Director
Maine Office of Substance Abuse
Augusta, ME

Barbara Cimaglio, Administrator
Oregon Dept. of Human Services
Salem, OR

Valarie N. Whipps
Tobacco Control Program
Koror, Palau

State Public Health Associations

Joyce Burgett, President
Montana Public Health Association

Elsie E. Eyer, Executive Director
Arizona Public Health Association

Lillie M. Fannin, President
Kentucky Public Health Association

Robert Hall, MDiv, DAPA, President
Delaware Public Health Association

State Highway Safety Representatives

Roger Sweet, GHSR Illinois
Illinois Dept. Of Transportation
Springfield, IL

* Affliation provided for identifaction purposes only.

For more information on alcohol warning labels, please click here.

August 2001