Warnings on alcoholic drinks do little to change the behaviour of younger drinkers, an Australian study has found.
Deakin University's Professor Peter Miller, who carried out the study, said the findings made it clear the current, optional warning system, overseen by the industry-funded body DrinkWise, was not working.
"We need to be sure, as consumers, that our government are the people that are looking after our rights. We can't trust the alcohol industry to supply us with information about alcohol. It's as idiotic as doing it with tobacco," Professor Miller said.
Geoff Munro, from the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, said something needed to be done to combat the widespread societal harm that alcohol causes including assaults, family violence and drink driving.
"Alcohol is a major health problem for Australian society. It does enormous damage," he said. "It is responsible for 5,500 deaths each year and alcohol puts 170,000 Australians into hospital each year for either acute or chronic problems.
"Australia needs a broad-based campaign to help lower the cost of alcohol and to encourage people to treat alcohol with much more respect than we do."
Forty Deakin University students aged between 18 and 25 took part in the study. They were shown images of the warnings, and then alcohol labelling with the warnings present.
The subjects of the study labelled the warnings as ineffective and some even went so far as to question whether DrinkWise was intentionally decreasing the visibility of the labels.
"I don't think it's displayed well enough for it to be a serious warning ??? because it's so tiny, it doesn't feel like they're caring whether we see the label or not. I don't see it as a legitimate warning," one subject said.
And despite 90 per cent of the subjects being classified as risky drinkers, very few felt the ads directly targeted them.
"I just see that [warnings] and think that wouldn't apply to me," another subject said.
The study's authors recommended that warnings highlight the negative effects of low to moderate alcohol consumption, such as the links between alcohol and cancer, in order to have a greater impact on alcohol consumption.
DrinkWise CEO John Scott responded to the criticism, arguing that the warnings play a small role in raising awareness of the dangers of alcohol consumption.
"Education about alcohol consumption is imperative and is at the forefront of what we do. While we recognise that labels alone do not change behaviour, our labels encourage consumers to visit our website for further detail and facts about alcohol," Mr Scott said.