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Alcohol Warning Labels A Welcome Sight For Māori Public Health Experts

Hāpai te Hauora welcomes the decision of the Food Standards Authority for Australia and New Zealand to make pregnancy warning labels compulsory on all alcohol products within the next three years.

Interim CEO for Hāpai te Hauora, Jason Alexander says the latest decision shows strong public health leadership "In a time where the world is watching New Zealand and where we’re seen as leaders in health protection as a result of our COVID-19 response, it is critically important that we continue to model best practice, and in this instance we have."

Alexander continues "It’s great to see our own Minister for Food Safety Hon Damien O’Connor come out strongly in support of these warning labels. It sends a strong message that the wellbeing of New Zealanders is being taken seriously, and shows what the Living Standards Framework looks like in action ant the policy level."

The labels, which were voted down earlier this year, due to the alleged undue cost of the change being placed on the alcohol industry, as well as concerns with the labelling being defined as a "health warning", will now be visible in a red colour on all products alongside a "pregnancy warning", and will be mandatory by 2023. The label proposed by FSANZ contains both text and a pictogram, three colours (red, black and white), as well as strong signal words and warning "Alcohol can cause lifelong harm to your baby". The colour red increases the speed of identification and level of attention the warning receives. Consumers consistently rate red as being associated with the highest level of hazard. The label contains all of the best practice design elements shown in research to increase consumer attention and health literacy.

Jessikha Leatham-Vlasic, Māori Public Health Lead at Hāpai te Hauora, says it’s a step in the right direction "We know that alcohol causes immense harm to our most vulnerable communities, and we know that this harm extends to our pēpi, our most precious tāonga. So having warning labels is a first line of defence for vulnerable communities where alcohol marketing is targeted specifically to these communities".

Leatham-Vlasic says that Foetal Alcohol Spectrum disorder (FASD) is one of the key preventable issues that can be addressed through these warning labels, "FASD occurs as a result of drinking alcohol during pregnancy, and can manifest as physical and developmental problems, learning difficulties and behavioural difficulties". Leatham-Vlasic says more needs to be done, and calls for a FASD prevalence study to be undertaken.

"We know FASD is prevalent within Aotearoa, we just don’t know how prevalent. There has been no prevalence study to understand the collective burden of harm that FASD has here in New Zealand, which has created significant barriers for whānau needing support. Mandated warning labels are a great prevention mechanism, and it has highlighted the next available steps for us moving forward."

Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is also a risk factor for SUDI (Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy), and the General Manager for SUDI Prevention, Fay Selby-Law, believes that the industry needs to be held accountable to the harms it causes. "Whilst at one end, this translates in to alcohol consumption and profit margins for the alcohol corporations, the fall-out at the other end is whānau and individuals who suffer from life-long harm, coupled with a society ill-equipped to support these whānau members".

Selby-Law says the warning labels will assist better decision making "With these warning labels, the information is right there on the bottle, keeping people informed and industry accountable. It would be easy to assume that not drinking during pregnancy is a given, but actually, there is a lot of devious information and biased research peddled by the alcohol industry which only contributes to the stressors and information overload during pregnancy."

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