Alcohol Use Disorders (63) Do people understand the harms of alcohol? (13) Popular beliefs about alcohol (5)

18 February, 2024

Dear Eduardo,

Thank you for your message with 18 myths about alcohol. [ ] Other HIFA member have since added more.

I did a quick Google search on "public understanding of the impact of alcohol on health". I was surprised that only 1/50 hits said anything about the subject. And this is a 2018 study from England, which found (unsurprisingly) that most people are unaware of the link between alcohol and cancer:

CITATION: Awareness of alcohol as a risk factor for cancer is associated with public support for alcohol policies

Sarah Bates, John Holmes, Lucy Gavens, Elena Gomes de Matos, Jessica Li, Bernadette Ward, Lucie Hooper, Simon Dixon & Penny Buykx

BMC Public Health volume 18, Article number: 688 (2018)



Globally, alcohol is causally related to 2.5 million deaths per year and 12.5% of these are due to cancer. Previous research has indicated that public awareness of alcohol as a risk factor for cancer is low and this may contribute to a lack of public support for alcohol policies. The aim of this study was to investigate the relationship between awareness of the alcohol-cancer link and support for a range of alcohol policies in an English sample and policy context.


A cross-sectional survey of 2100 adult residents in England was conducted in which respondents answered questions regarding awareness of the link between alcohol and cancer and support for 21 policy proposals. Principal component analysis (PCA) was used to reduce the 21 policy proposals down to a set of underlying factors. Multiple regression analyses were conducted to estimate the relationship between awareness of the alcohol-cancer link and each of these policy factors.


Thirteen per cent of the sample were aware of the alcohol-cancer link unprompted, a further 34% were aware when prompted and 53% were not aware of the link. PCA reduced the policy items to four policy factors, which were named price and availability, marketing and information, harm reduction and drink driving. Awareness of the alcohol-cancer link unprompted was associated with increased support for each of four underlying policy factors: price and availability (Beta: 0.06, 95% CI: 0.01, 0.10), marketing and information (Beta: 0.05, 95% CI: 0.00, 0.09), harm reduction (Beta: 0.09, 95% CI: 0.05, 0.14), and drink driving (Beta: 0.16, 95% CI: 0.11, 0.20).


Support for alcohol policies is greater among individuals who are aware of the link between alcohol and cancer. At the same time, a large proportion of people are unaware of the alcohol-cancer link and so increasing awareness may be an effective approach to increasing support for alcohol policies.


COMMENT (NPW): Why is there such low awareness of the link between alcohol and cancer? One of the reasons is that the alcohol industry deliberately obfuscates. Another reason is that governments are simply failing in their obligation under human rights law (as demonstrated by HIFA and the New York Law School) to meet the reliable healthcare information needs of their populations.

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of HIFA (Healthcare Information For All), a global health community that brings all stakeholders together around the shared goal of universal access to reliable healthcare information. HIFA has 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting in four languages and representing all parts of the global evidence ecosystem. HIFA is administered by Global Healthcare Information Network, a UK-based nonprofit in official relations with the World Health Organization. Email: