February 28, 2024

Alcohol Consumption Guidelines: A Warning Shot for the Industry

Bar Bites: A Food & Beverage Law Blog
Jessica M. Brown | Ana Dragojevic
Bar Bites: A Food & Beverage Blog

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Jan. 4, 2023, released a statement that there is no "safe" level of alcohol consumption that does not affect health.1 In collaboration with international partners, the WHO spearheaded the SAFER: A World Free from Alcohol-Related Harms (SAFER) initiative in 2019, which provides technical guidelines for alcohol control and aims to reduce harmful use of alcohol by 10 percent in 2025.2 In 2023, Canada radically revised its recommendations for alcohol consumption when it published new national recommendations saying that zero alcohol is the only risk-free approach.3

It remains to be seen how the WHO's guidance will impact the alcohol beverage industry in the U.S., but it could be analogous to another highly restricted product: tobacco. In response to public outcry about the negative effects of tobacco usage, the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act banned advertising of cigarettes on television and radio starting on Jan. 2, 1971, and, since 1984, cigarette companies have been required to place U.S. Surgeon General warnings on all cigarette packs and advertisements with the passing of the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act.4 These impacts are apparent in the production level of tobacco in the U.S., with the number of tobacco farms decreasing from 180,000 in the 1980s to about 10,000 in 2012. Sales of tobacco products, such as cigarettes, have also declined in recent years.5 In 2017, about 249 billion cigarettes were sold in the U.S. – a 3.5 percent decrease from the 258 billion sold in 2016.6

The alcohol industry appears to be following a similar path, and it is not unreasonable to assume that other countries will adopt the WHO's guidance on alcohol, similar to its guidance on tobacco. In response to a congressional mandate (Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023; Sec. 772)7, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine's Food and Nutrition Board will convene a committee of experts to evaluate current scientific evidence on the relationship between alcohol consumption and health outcomes.8 The results of that study will impact the next edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which is slated to be published in 2025. The current guidelines reflect a recommendation that alcohol consumption be limited to two drinks or less per day for men or one drink or less per day for women.9 On Jan. 19, 2023, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the appointment of 20 nationally recognized nutrition and public health experts to serve on the 2025 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.10 It is not yet known how or whether the committee will take the WHO's recent statement into account when developing the new guidelines for alcohol consumption.

Holland & Knight will provide further updates on the implications of the Food and Nutrition Board's study on the upcoming edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the specifics of any changes to the alcohol industry as informed by the recent WHO guideline changes.


1 WHO: "No level of alcohol consumption is safe for our health," Jan. 4, 2023 (accessed Feb. 28, 2024).

2 WHO: The SAFER initiative (accessed Feb. 28, 2024).

3 Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction: "Canada's Guidance on Alcohol and Health: Final Report," January 2023 (accessed Feb. 28, 2024).

4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): "Selected Laws Enacted by the U.S. Government Regarding the Regulation of Tobacco Sales, Marketing, and Use (excluding laws pertaining to agriculture or excise tax)" (accessed Feb. 28, 2024).

5 CDC: "Economic Trends in Tobacco" (accessed Feb. 28, 2024).

6 Id.

7 Section 772 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act provides appropriations for the USDA to enter into an agreement with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to conduct a study of specified topics and scientific questions related to alcohol.

8 National Academies Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine: "Review of Evidence on Alcohol and Health" (accessed Feb. 28, 2024).

9 CDC: "Dietary Guidelines for Alcohol" (accessed Feb. 28, 2024).

10 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: "Work Under Way" (accessed Feb. 28, 2024).

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