“Everything causes cancer, and we’re all going to die.” This is the message we see on everything, all the time — from household cleaners to cigarettes to flame-retardant furniture (since they contain chemicals that may promote cancer).
But as science continues to discover more and more links between cancer and, well, everything we’ve ever enjoyed, a lot of things are being given new or improved warning labels to make extra, extra sure we feel death’s icy hand at every moment of the day. Here’s what to expect before too long:
In England, the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) is calling for a change in how alcoholic drinks are labeled, citing the fact that 90 percent of Britons are unaware of the link between alcohol and cancer. The society wants it to be mandatory to include the government’s relatively new guideline to drink no more than 14 units a week (around six pints of beer, seven glasses of wine or 14 single shots of spirits).
In a recent report, the RSPH also recommends a drunk-drive warning, as well as traffic-light labelling, similar to those already used on many food items in the U.K. — green, yellow and red signals that show consumers whether a product is high, medium or low in fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar (and ideally, calories). These labels, they say, will raise awareness and empower the public to make more informed choices regarding alcohol.
Because when you’re already in the mood to get sloppily annihilated, you’re definitely in the mood to consider your sodium intake.
In 2012, Australia became the first country to implement laws requiring plain tobacco packaging, calling for the removal of all branding (colors, imagery, corporate logos and trademarks) and placing health warnings and deterrent images (like photos of tumors and rotten teeth) front and center. Since then, several other countries have enacted plain packaging laws, which have been proven to discourage smoking — it’s estimated that it resulted in 108,228 fewer smokers in Australia between 2012 and 2015, while a 2013 review found it greatly increased the importance of health warnings to consumers.
Because of its effectiveness, in 2016 the World Health Organization called on all governments to get ready for plain packaging of tobacco products. But of course, the tobacco industry in America continues to fight against it — a free speech-related lawsuit by tobacco companies and other factors have prevented the change from happening. Health advocates continue to push for it, but we’re not holding our (slightly wheezy) breath.
A lawsuit first filed in 2010 by the Council for Education and Research on Toxics hopes to require coffee sellers — including Starbucks and 7-Eleven — to warn drinkers of acrylamide, a potentially cancer-causing chemical produced during the roasting of coffee beans (the chemical is also found in fried foods, baby foods and baked goods). Depending on the decision, which is to be made sometime this year, coffee in California may soon come with a consumer warning about cancer (under California’s Proposition 65, businesses are required to notify customers if their products contain chemicals linked with cancer, birth defects or other reproductive issues).
If the law passes, warning signs would need to be posted at store counters (or on walls) where they can be easily seen by consumers grabbing their morning pick-me-up (although they probably won’t be able to understand them until after they’ve finished their triple venti, half sweet, non-fat caramel Macchiato).
California, New York and Baltimore all have legislation in the works requiring warning labels on beverages high in sugar, including soft drinks. California’s proposed wording reads: “STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar[s] contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.”
Recent research published in the journal Pediatrics shows that these labels would almost certainly deter people from buying soda: According to the research, only 40 percent of parents said they would still buy their children “sugar-sweetened beverages,” compared to 60 percent when there was no label.
Despite legalization spreading across the U.S., and a 468-page review by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine claiming that cannabis can lead to the development of schizophrenia or other psychoses, the FDA has yet to stick a legit warning label on the drug’s packaging. Whether this is in the works remains unclear, but The Hill reports that a warning about the health dangers of weed might look something like this:
WARNING. Using cannabis can lead to the development of schizophrenia, other psychoses and other mental-health problems. Cannabis can cause hallucinations, delusions and panic attacks. Cannabis can cause an increase in suicide ideation and suicide attempts. Smoking cannabis can worsen respiratory infections and bronchitis episodes. Using cannabis can lead to an increased risk of motor vehicle crashes. Maternal cannabis smoking is associated with the lower birth weight of babies.
Which… seems a little long if you’re expecting pot smokers to read it.
Frequent consumption of processed meats (like bacon) has long been linked with numerous forms of cancer. Using this as leverage, the Animal Justice Party and Vegan Australia have launched campaigns calling for mandatory health warnings to be placed on all processed meat products. According to Vegan Australia, these labels would say something like: “WARNING: Eating bacon causes bowel cancer.” Unfortunately for them, it’s unlikely that these labels will become a reality anytime soon, considering the immense lobbying power of the meat industry.
All in all, perhaps we could save everyone a lot of effort by just sticking a label saying, “CANCER, probably” on absolutely everything.