Ever thought of a standard alcohol drink label? Probably not, but here’s why you might think they’d be a good idea.
We’ll start with the new can in town. It’s a 12-ounce can of 3-year old Blended Scotch Whisky from Scottish Spirits Imports, Inc. Each non-re-sealable, 12-ounce can (which looks exactly like a 12-ounce beer can, by the way) contains eight standard drinks (though in fairness to the company, they do provide a re-sealable latex cap with each can). Considering that binge drinking for men [the amount of alcohol that can get you into trouble] is five or more standard drinks per occasion and for women it’s four or more, that’s a lot of standard drinks in one small container.
But it’s not just the new Scotch in a Can.
Take a margarita, for example. It may contain two to three “standard drinks.” A 24-ounce can of regular beer contains two, and a bottle of table wine contains five. This means a person having a margarita and sharing a bottle of wine may believe they’ve only had a “couple” when in reality they’ve had four to six [there’s that binge drinking number, again].
Where am I going with all this?
What to Include on a Standard Alcohol Drink Label
I’m advocating we add five simple words to alcoholic drink and beverage container labels:
“Contains Approximately 8 Standard Drinks.”
It could even be shortened to two simple words:
“Drinks = 8.”
Consider this. We can easily read a food package label to find out how many trans-fats are in a serving of cheese or how many calories are in a serving of pasta, yet nowhere can we find how many standard drinks are in a particular drink or drink container.
For those of us who choose to drink alcohol and want to keep our number of drinks within the health and safety limits, we need information. As I’ve learned, measuring alcohol consumption is less about the number of glasses than it is about the number of standard drinks in each glass.
Five ounces of table wine, 12 ounces of beer and 1.5 ounces of 80-proof hard liquor (scotch, vodka, gin, bourbon) are all the equivalent of one standard drink. If you like malt liquors (ale and lager beers, for example), it’s only 8-9 ounces (less than a regular can of beer).
Thus, a Long Island Iced Tea at one location could contain two to three standard drinks, and a couple of stiff vodkas-on-the-rocks at another could put a woman into the binge-drinking category.
If it’s important enough to tell consumers about trans-fats and calories, it should be equally important to tell them about their alcohol intake. After all, a lifetime of trans-fats may shorten your life span measurably, but one night of heavy (binge) drinking and the embarrassing, hurtful or dangerous behaviors that can occur could adversely change a life forever.
How Hard Would it Be – Standard Alcohol Drink Labels?
It really wouldn’t take much – just two to five words – to expand the alcoholic beverage labels to include the number of standard alcohol drinks per container or serving. We could even ask restaurants and bars to do the same on their menus.
Yes, it would require a slight label modification, but it would not require beverage companies to re-tool their bottling plants or bartenders to change their drink concoctions. Yes, it would mean all bartenders have to pour their drinks as their establishment has labeled them; just like packaged food serving contents must meet their labels. And, yes, some people won’t want to know how much they’re drinking — just like some people don’t want to know how many calories are in the bag of chips they eat.
But with a standard alcohol drink label, the person who wants to keep it to “a drink or two” will know to skip the margarita if they plan to share a bottle of wine. And the person sharing the Scotch in a Can with a friend on a picnic will know to use the “re-sealable latex cap.” You can see where this can go — friends won’t accept rides with friends who’ve had “a couple” of Long Island Iced Teas during happy hour and instead insist they take a cab, spouses will let go of ”being right” in an argument with the one who’s had most of the bottle of wine at dinner after cocktails before…. Just two to five words is all it might take to change a mind, save a life, protect a relationship. Sure seems worth it to me.