Warning: this drink is dangerous

Congress should unhesitatingly pass legislation now introduced in both houses of the US Congress that would require a warning label on alcoholic beverages. The legislation has already won a broad spectrum of bipartisan support, including that of Strom Thurmond, George Brown, Orrin Hatch, Jake Garn, Mark Hatfield, Patrick Leahy, Quentin Burdick, to name a few sponsors.

The warning label, which would apply to all alcoholic beverages containing more than 24 percent alcohol by volume, is a straightforward statement of the hazards of drinking to driving ability and health. The legislatures of Utah and Kansas have both passed resolutions endorsing the concept of such labels. So has at least one house in the states of Oregon, Missouri, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and Michigan.

In July the US Surgeon General issued an advisory to all pregnant women (or women considering pregnancy) urging them not to drink alcoholic beverages and noting potential health risks from even small amounts of alcohol. Beyond that there is the larger problem of alcoholism in the United States. One half or more of all traffic accidents are believed to be alcohol-related. There are at least 10 million alcoholics in the US. Something like 15 percent of all drinkers have a dependency problem. Alcohol misuse costs the nation between $40 billion and $50 billion annually, roughly equal to current budget cuts.

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Young people in particular need to be reminded that alcohol is a drug -- and a potentially dangerous one at that. An official warning label on alcoholic beverages, similar to that for cigarettes, would seem to be the minimum step the US government should take to combat this moral and social scourage.

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