HEALTH warnings linking alcohol with dire outcomes such as brain damage and cancer have been backed by health groups but described as potentially ''alarming'' by an industry-backed group.
The fight over safety labels between the health sector and the multibillion-dollar liquor industry is warming up just as the federal government finally begins formal consultations today on long-awaited warnings, introduced in the United States 22 years ago.
The federally-funded Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation yesterday released its favoured warnings, including: ''Drinking alcohol increases your risk of developing cancers'' and ''drinking alcohol damages the young developing brain''.
The foundation has dismissed as ''weak'' the voluntary warnings being introduced by most beer, wine and spirit companies.
The foundation's warnings have been developed on advice from health promotion experts and were backed by the Australian Medical Association, which has urged the government to introduce tough mandatory warnings.
The proposed labels would refer people concerned about their alcohol intake to a government helpline.
The office of the Parliamentary Secretary for Health, Catherine King, said the Commonwealth was working with the states in developing a response to a report last January urging alcohol health warnings.
The task of considering diverse views on health warnings was ''complex'' and a response would be put to a ministerial council in December.
The chief executive of the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation, Michael Thorn, yesterday said there was concern among health groups that the alcohol industry has sought to pre-empt the warning measures and urged the government to administer the warnings.
''The country's biggest alcohol companies will soon be using their weak, voluntary labels to direct consumers to 'Get the Facts' on an industry-funding website. ''But Australians need to get the facts now - at the point of purchase or consumption,'' Mr Thorn said.
Trish Worth, who chairs the industry-supported educational group, DrinkWise Australia, questioned whether the latest warnings were reasonable.
''Some people would argue these are alarming. It is very important to get the full information and that is what we have done,'' Ms Worth said, referring to the DrinkWise website.
The president of the AMA, Steve Hambleton, said the labels introduced voluntarily by the alcohol industry ''do not go far enough … They represent a soft approach on health labelling.
''Warning people, especially young people, about the potential harms of alcohol cannot be left in the hands of an industry motivated by increasing its sales and profits.''
Regardless, alcohol awareness is still a pressing issue and consumers should consider at the very least to consider an entry level 8 hour alcohol awareness class online