Irish health warning labels on alcoholic beverages: a needed cultural change?

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Ireland recently decided to require all alcoholic beverage containers sold in the country to have a health warning label similar to what is already on cigarettes (but without the pictures). This is part of Ireland’s plan to reduce alcohol abuse. While this caused a revolt in the Southern European wine-producing countries, I believe this decision is a step towards changing the culture of a country to be more healthy and for that reason should be pursued.

Ireland’s rationale is to reduce dangerous alcohol consumption behavior, which can cause a burden on the state. Diseases caused by alcohol consumption not only affect the person afflicted by them, but also their families and friends, and the society at large via the healthcare system that provides treatments. I have heard of multiple instances in the news of deaths of innocent people caused by someone driving under the influence of alcohol. Ireland has courageously called out alcohol as a danger to public health to protect its citizens from it. The country has already enforced minimum prices on alcoholic beverages to discourage consumption. This is a difficult statement to digest for countries that culturally like wine and have made wine production an important sector of their economies, like Italy, France, and Spain. They have perceived the Irish law as a direct attack on their culture, lifestyle, and heritage. I do come from a wine-loving and wine-producing country, and I can understand why such a reaction is taking place — we like good wine with good food, the wine aisles in supermarkets are very well stocked, and a bottle of wine is always a good gift to bring with when invited for dinner.

But science has started to show that even moderate alcohol consumption is not good: indeed, the World Health Organization has recently stated that “when it comes to alcohol consumption, there is no safe amount that does not affect health.” Such a statement again rocks all those countries that have made drinking alcohol a part of their core culture. We are living in an age where we pay more attention to our health (the pandemic has helped accelerate the process) and if alcohol is indeed dangerous for our health, then we should reconsider its cultural acceptance. This is hard, of course: cultures are engrained in people’s lives, and there is social pressure to abide by them. But I believe this update of culture is so essential for today’s world: for a bigger, more imminent problem such as climate change, for example, we can see that our consumption and travel habits are polluting and killing the planet.

Even if it is hard because people can be so accustomed to it, drinking less alcohol can be beneficial to one’s health. Translating this personal change into a cultural one can be valuable for societies at large.