Credit: ABC TV

Half of all Victorians do not realize that alcohol causes cancer, research revealed, and this prompts the Alcohol Policy Coalition to call for health advisory labels on alcohol products to better inform consumers.

A public meeting has been held by the Council of Australian Governments in Melbourne to discuss Australia's food and alcohol labeling law overhaul.

People need to know what they are drinking and how it can impact their health so that they can make an informed decision about the drinks they purchase and consume, said Craig Sinclair, director of the Cancer Prevention Centre, Cancer Council, Victoria.

A VicHealth survey involving 1,500 Victorians found one in four people don't believe that alcohol is a cause of cancer, while another 25 per cent said they weren't sure.

It's surprising that there isn't even a requirement for alcohol companies to list ingredients on their products, let alone labels about the risk of disease, said Mr Sinclair.

There is no reason why alcohol, which is inherently harmful, is subject to less regulation in this regard than a can of soft drink.

A total of 85 per cent support the introduction of labels listing health information on alcohol products, according to figures released by VicHealth. The labels on alcohol products are a requirement in at least 43 countries.

We call on the Council of Australian Governments through the labeling review to make health information and warning labels mandatory rather than through a voluntary system implemented by the alcohol industry.

The tobacco labeling success has proven that health labels play a big part in changing the behaviour of consumers. Similarly health labels will assist people to understand the potential health impact when they buy alcohol and when they drink it, said Mr Sinclair.

Alcohol is next to tobacco, as the most harmful drug in Australia. It is a Group I carcinogen - the highest classification, according to the World Health Organization. In other words, alcohol is a cause of cancer and thus falls in the same category as tobacco.

Drinking alcohol raises the cancer risk of mouth, throat, oesophagus, bowel, liver and female breast. The risk of cancer is present for all types of alcohol, including beer, wine and spirits.

A total of 3,000 Australians were diagnosed with alcohol-related cancer and 1,376 died from cancers caused by alcohol, in 2005.