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Powerful Australian cancer and alcohol advertisement ranked best in the world

Thursday 20 April, 2017

A graphic advertisement which shows how alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream, increasing the risk of cancerous cell mutations in the liver, bowel and throat, has been found to be the most effective alcohol education advertisement internationally, according to a new study.

The study, published in British Medical Journal Open, tested 83 alcohol education advertisements from around the world and found that Western Australian advertisement ‘Spread' was most likely to motivate drinkers to reduce their alcohol consumption.

The advertisement demonstrates that alcohol is carcinogenic, which Cancer Council Victoria CEO Todd Harper said is still widely unknown in the community.

"Our 2015 [i] survey of Victorian men and women found that nearly half of the respondents either believed that alcohol made no difference or were not sure if it had any effect on a person's risk of cancer," Mr Harper said.

"It's worrying because alcohol is a Group 1 carcinogen – the highest classification available. It means that there is strong evidence that alcohol causes cancer at some body sites in humans.

"We know that every drink increases your risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, bowel, liver and female breast.

"More than 3200 [ii] cases of cancer each year in Australia could be prevented if people limited their alcohol consumption.

"We recommend that those who choose to drink alcohol consume no more than two standard drinks on any day."

The study invited 2174 Australian adults who regularly consume alcohol to view three advertisements and report the extent to which they felt motivated to reduce their drinking while watching each advertisement.

Each advertisement was scored on a five-point scale, with one being the lowest and five being the highest motivation to reduce their drinking.

‘Spread' ranked the highest with an average score of 3.77. The graphic ad performed well across all audience groups: males and females, younger adults and older adults, and low and high risk drinkers.

Mr Harper said the research highlights how mass media campaigns can be used to help the public understand more about the consequences of long-term alcohol consumption.

"We've seen how effective campaigns around drink driving and short term harms such as injury or violence have been in terms of changing our drinking habits, but in Victoria and the majority of the rest of Australia, we rarely see the long-term health effects of alcohol portrayed on our screens," he said.

"This research highlights how effective a campaign like this could be in terms of motivating people to better understand the risks of alcohol consumption.

"These findings should now be used to plan campaigns that empower the community with knowledge about the harms of alcohol, so they can reduce their cancer risk."

The study was conducted by the Cancer Council's Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer and funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Cancer Council Victoria is hoping to use the top advertisement in a campaign later in 2017.

View the advertisement

i. The online poll was commissioned by Cancer Council Victoria and conducted by Essential Research. The survey was conducted online from the 6 to 17 May 2015 and is based on 527 respondents.

The online survey revealed nearly half the respondents (46%) felt alcohol made no difference or were not sure if it had any effect on a person's risk of cancer.

ii. "Cancers in Australia in 2010 attributable to the consumption of alcohol," Aust N Z J Public Health 2015. Available from