ATF

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Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives


ATF News
For Immediate Release:
FY00-3
Contact: Art Resnick
December
9 , 1999


ATF Announces Public
Hearings on Health Claims

Washington
- The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) announced today
that it would hold public hearings on the issue of health claims in
the labeling and advertising of alcohol beverages.

Last
February, ATF approved two directional statements on wine labels. One
directed consumers to their family doctors for information regarding
the "health effects of wine consumption." The second referred consumers
to the Federal Government's "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" for such
information. Based on the evidence before it, including a consumer survey
conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration’s
Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP), ATF concluded that it
had an insufficient record to disapprove the labels. The CSAP survey
concluded that the drinking patterns of most of those who participated
in the study would not be influenced by these messages.

The
approval of these labels generated considerable interest from Federal
health officials, members of Congress, and public advocacy groups, who
expressed concern about consumer perception of the label statements.
Surgeon General David Satcher, in particular, stated that people might
draw an incorrect message from these labels. Moreover, ATF has become
aware of a number of press accounts interpreting the directional statements
as actual health claims about the benefits of alcohol consumption and
the government’s approval of the labels as an endorsement of drinking.

On
October 25, 1999, ATF invited comments on its current policy on health-related
statements by publishing the policy as a proposed regulation in the
Federal Register. The regulation would specifically prohibit the use
of any health claim in the labeling or advertisements of alcohol beverages
unless it is balanced, properly qualified, sufficiently detailed and
specific, and outlines the categories of persons for whom any positive
effects would be outweighed by the numerous negative health effects.

ATF
also is seeking comments on whether even such balanced and qualified
statements should be prohibited because the negative consequences of
alcohol consumption are so serious as to make any health-related statement
on labels or in advertisements inherently misleading. In addition, ATF
seeks comments on whether directional health statements such as those
approved in February tend to mislead consumers about the health consequences
of alcohol consumption.

ATF
wants to ensure that all interested parties have an opportunity to express
their views on these extremely important issues. Accordingly, after
the close of the comment period, ATF will hold public hearings in cities
and on dates to be announced. These hearings will provide ATF with a
comprehensive record on which to base final regulations on health claims.

Due
to the adverse consequences of alcohol abuse, ATF is concerned about
any risk of misperception resulting from the two approved statements.
Because ATF is seeking public comments on this very issue, ATF will
suspend action on any new applications for label approval bearing similar
"directional" health-related statements pending the completion of the
rulemaking proceedings.