A week after big tobacco was forced to accept the introduction of plain packaging on cigarettes sold Down Under from 2012, effectively banning advertising on tobacco products, health-conscious labeling is being added to up to 80 percent of beer, wine and spirit products.
The difference? Australia's liquor industry — including such big-name brands as Foster's, Coopers, Jacob's Creek, Bundaberg Rum and Gordon's Gin — decided to take the responsible approach and introduce the change themselves.
After what the Sydney Morning Herald described as "years of government dithering," alcohol companies will add warnings — "aimed at young people, pregnant women and problem drinkers"— to their packaging.
The interchangeable warnings, developed by educational outfit DrinkWise Australia and the liquor industry, are:
''Is your drinking harming yourself or others?''
''Kids and alcohol don't mix''
''It is safest not to drink while pregnant''
About 14 countries, including the U.S., France and Germany, have mandatory health warnings on alcohol.
Australia's new warning on pregnancy is still less explicit than the U.S. version, which is that it causes ''birth defects." The National Health and Medical Research Council declares only that ''maternal alcohol consumption can harm the developing fetus or breastfeeding baby."
A decision on government-mandated warning labels is not expected until at least the end of the year. That follows several calls from experts for warning labels in recent years culminating in the recommendation made by an advisory committee in January.
The chairwoman of DrinkWise Australia, Trish Worth, said the move was not a bid to pre-empt government measures as DrinkWise had been working on the idea since early 2008.
"Delivering consumer information messages via product labels and at retail point of sale will help us engage directly with Australia's current drinkers," the WSJ quoted Trish Worth, the chairwoman of DrinkWise Australia, as saying.
Are the warning likely to deter drinkers in a nation that — rightly or wrongly — is famous for its alcohol consumption?
The SMH quotes restaurant manager Jimmy Lin as saying the warnings would do little to stop his drinking, as they were not like the graphic warnings on cigarette packs and didn't tell him anything he didn't already know.
Meantime, here's another reason to admire Australia's alcohol industry: