Alcohol Warning Labels:

Current Rules May Allow Health Warnings to Go Unnoticed

HRD-89-118: Published: Jun 14, 1989. Publicly Released: Aug 3, 1989.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Bureau of Tobacco and Firearms' (BATF) implementation of the Alcoholic Beverage Labelling Act of 1988.

GAO found that: (1) the law requires a health warning label on all alcoholic beverage containers bottled on or after November 18, 1989; (2) BATF relied upon current regulations related to labelling wine and distilled spirits to determine the requirements for disclosure of the health warning statement; (3) 38 percent of the labels BATF had approved as of May 1989 did not have the warning statement emphasized in bold type; and (4) disagreements with the proposed warning statements concerned the warning's placement size or the typeface used. GAO also found that the sponsors of the legislation were concerned because: (1) the proposed rules did not ensure the conspicuous placement of the warning statement; (2) BATF only considered two sizes of alcoholic beverage containers; and (3) BATF did not highlight the warning with an outlining box in a larger boldface than proposed.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On February 14, 1990, BATF issued final rules implementing the Alcoholic Beverage Labelling Act of 1988. The final rules incorporated this recommendation to make the warning labels conspicuous and readily legible.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the warning statement is legible, conspicuous, and prominent, the Secretary of the Treasury should direct BATF to specify in its final regulations: (1) that the words GOVERNMENT WARNING be capitalized and in bold type; (2) the minimum space and lettering requirements for the warning statement; and (3) detailed criteria to ensure that the statement is prominently displayed to better inform consumers of the warning.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury


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