Cancer Council Victoria calls for public education on new drinking guidelines

Wednesday 20 January, 2021

Cancer Council Victoria is calling for an ongoing public education campaign combining warnings about long-term harms from alcohol with promotion of the National Health and Medical Research Council’s new low-risk drinking guidelines, with new research showing that such a campaign could work to motivate Australians to reduce their drinking in line with the new guidelines.

The Cancer Council Victoria study published in the international journal Social Science & Medicine, found that alcohol harm reduction television advertisements that included messages promoting low-risk drinking guidelines strengthened drinkers’ intentions to reduce their alcohol consumption. 

The research was undertaken by comparing estimates of harmful drinking levels, attitudes towards alcohol use, and intentions to drink less amongst 1156 monthly drinkers who were assigned to watch one of three types of advertisements: ads for non-alcohol products, ads highlighting the long-term harms of alcohol, or ads highlighting the long-term harms plus a message promoting the low-risk drinking guidelines.

The research found that drinkers who were exposed to the ads highlighting the long-term harms plus a guideline message were more likely to correctly estimate harmful drinking levels and to have negative attitudes towards alcohol, which in turn, contributed to them having stronger intentions to drink less.

Exposure to ads highlighting just the long-term harms of alcohol also worked to strengthen intentions to drink less by increasing negative attitudes towards alcohol.

Study author, Dr Emily Brennan, from Cancer Council Victoria said the results demonstrated that educating people about how much they should be drinking and why they should want to reduce their intake could be an effective way to motivate them to drink within the guidelines.

“Many people don’t realise the level of alcohol that increases their risk of harm and so may not think they need to reduce their drinking. Our study highlights that integrating drinking guidelines into media campaigns about alcohol harms can provide drinkers with information about how to lower their risk of harm by reducing their drinking, while also giving them compelling reasons to comply with the guidelines,” Dr Brennan said.

Cancer Council Victoria Senior Policy Advisor, Ms Sarah Jackson, called on the Australian Government to invest in campaigns highlighting the harms caused by alcohol and promoting the new low-risk alcohol guidelines.

“The new guidelines have just been released but they won’t have an impact unless the Government invests in effectively communicating them to the public.”

“We know that many Australians still drink at levels that exceed the guidelines, increasing their risk of cancer and other harms, and alcohol use has increased among some groups during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Alcohol consumption causes at least 7 types of cancer including breast and bowel cancer, and more than 3,500 Australians get cancer each year as a result. But most people don’t know that alcohol is a class one carcinogen. People have the right to information about the long-term damage to their health that alcohol can cause,” said Ms Jackson.

-ENDS- 

About the research:

The study was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Study: Brennan E, Schoenaker DAJM, Dunstone K, et al. Understanding the effectiveness of advertisements about the long-term harms of alcohol and low-risk drinking guidelines: A mediation analysis. Social Science & Medicine; doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2020.113596