Effects of Consumption Frequency on Believability and Attitudes toward Alcohol Warning Labels

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INTRODUCTION

Recent testimony before a U.S. subcommittee presented alarming evidence regarding the link between alcohol consumption and abuse and birth defects, driving impairment, hypertension, liver disease, cancer, dangerous effects with other drugs, and addiction ("Alcohol Warning Labels" 1988). Enoch Gordis, Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, indicated that fetal alcohol syndrome is the leading cause of mental retardation, 51 percent of traffic fatalities are alcohol related, and alcohol abuse can be a contributing factor in the development of oral cancer, liver disease, and high blood pressure (Gordis 1988). In response to these and other potential hazards of alcohol consumption and abuse, the U.S. Congress enacted the Alcohol Beverage Labeling Act of 1988, requiring that two specific health warnings appear on the labels of all imported or domestic beverages bottled on or after November 18, 1989, for sale and distribution in the United States (Alcohol Beverage Labeling Act of 1988). These two federally mandated warnings are:

GOVERNMENT WARNING: (1) According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects. (2) Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery, and may cause health problems.

There have been arguments from state lawmakers and citizen groups, however, that these two warnings should be strengthened. They suggest three additional alcohol warning labels alerting individuals to (a) alcohol's effects on hypertension, liver disease, and cancer; (b) its risks in combination with other drugs; and (c) its addictive qualities as a drug (Ferguson 1990; Lipman 1990; The New York Times 1989; Prial 1988). All five alcohol warning labels (i.e., the two federally mandated and three suggested) were originally proposed in the Alcohol Beverage Labeling Act. However, only the birth defects and driving impairment warnings were required by the federal government ("Alcohol Warning Labels" 1988).

While extensive research has examined other product warning labels (e.g., cigarettes, toxic products, appliances, prescription drugs; cf., Beltramini 1988; Bettman, Payne, and Staelin 1986), research on the effectiveness of alcohol warning labels is virtually nonexistent. Two recent exceptions are studies of the effect of prior alcohol attitudes and beliefs on warning perceptions (Andrews, Netemeyer, and Durvasula 1990) and the manipulation of warning severity and transmission mode (Ducoffe 1990). However, research is needed to determine what other important moderating factors serve to influence acceptance of alcohol warning label information. For example, based on studies suggesting a differential impact of alcohol awareness campaigns depending on stages of alcohol use/addiction (Bozinoff, Roth, and May 1989; DePaulo, Rubin, and Milner 1987), alcohol consumption frequency is expected to serve as an important moderating variable in the acceptance of alcohol warning label information. In Bozinoff, Roth, and May (1989), alcohol awareness campaign recall, ad evaluation, and perceived ad effectiveness were all found to be higher for nonusers than heavy users of alcohol. This suggests that the impact of alcohol awareness information can be differentially affected by a person's degree of alcohol usage. Will similar results occur for the acceptance of alcohol warning label information under differing alcohol consumption rates? In particular, will the occasional/nonuser of alcohol exhibit greater belief in and more favorable attitudes toward alcohol warning labels than the regular/heavy user? Will the regular/heavy user of alcohol hold more confident (and negative) attitudes toward alcohol warning labels than the occasional/nonuser? This study seeks to provide answers to these questions.

Another important issue pertains to the degree to which certain affected segments of the population will believe and react favorably to the warning labels. …