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New law will make warning labels on beer, liquor containers easier to read

Beer cans and liquor bottles soon will bear a more readable health warning label directed at drivers and pregnant women. The warning has been required since last November but the initial regulations by the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were criticized for allowing use of small, hard-to-read type.

So, after receiving 13,000 comments from the public, the ATF published in the Federal Register this past week new regulations effective in nine months designed to make the warning more legible. Breweries and distilleries unable to meet the deadline may apply for a 120-day extension.

"The complaints involved readability and that's what we think we have resolved with the new regulations," Dot Koester, an ATF spokeswoman, said in an interview.

"We're pleasantly surprised," said Christine Lubinsky, a spokeswoman for the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, which mounted a letter-writing campaign among its members for the changes.

"Given what we were seeing on bottles, particularly beer, there was a real need for the changes because most of labels were really bad," Lubinsky said. "There had been some really creative efforts to make the labels as illegible as possible."

"Obviously our industry will comply with it," said James Sanders, president of the Beer Institute, although it "will require changing hundreds of labels on various containers."

Labels on many cans and bottles already comply with the new, "more restrictive" requirements, Sanders said.

One change, Ms. Koester said, is a requirement that the words "GOVERNMENT WARNING" be printed using both capital letters and bold type.

Other changes involve larger type on larger containers and a limit on the number of characters per inch.

The warning reads:

"GOVERNMENT WARNING: (1) According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects. (2) Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car, to operate machinery and may cause health problems."