Alcoholic Beverages Listed as a
"Known Human Carcinogen"

On May 15, 2000, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released the Ninth Report on Carcinogens, for the first time including the consumption of alcoholic beverages as "known to be a human carcinogen." The report, based on three years of study that included three scientific reviews and public comment from scientists, consumers and other interested parties, confirms a mountain of evidence that has been piling up for decades on the effects of alcohol consumption. According to the report:

  • Consumption of alcoholic beverages is causally related to cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus. Cohort and case control studies consistently find moderate to strong associations between alcohol consumption and those cancers. Evidence also supports a weaker but possibly causal relationship between alcohol consumption and increased risk of cancers of the breast and liver.

  • Studies indicate that the risk of cancer is most pronounced among smokers and at the highest levels of consumption; however, smoking does not explain the observed increase in cancer risk related to increased alcoholic beverage consumption.

  • The mechanism by which consumption of alcoholic beverages can cause cancers in humans is not established.

The NTP Report has immediate implications for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms' current review of the permissibility of health claims and health-related statements in alcohol labeling and advertising, and may lead to calls for the labeling of alcoholic beverages with warnings about cancer risks. Currently, under BATF regulations (27 CFR 4.32, 5.32, and 7.22), alcoholic beverages that contain saccharin must warn of the cancer risk associated with saccharin consumption. We note, however, that saccharin was removed from the list of "known human carcinogens" in NTP's Ninth Report and that BATF may come under pressure to drop that labeling requirement.

To learn more about the Ninth Report on Carcinogens, please visit the National Toxicology Program website.

May 19, 2000