The study led by the George Institute for Global Health was a randomized trial involving three online surveys over a period of six weeks from 8,000 adults who broadly represented the Australian drinking public. The article was published on the Addictive Behaviours.
As part of these surveys, some participants saw the Western Australian government's spread advert which informs drinkers that alcohol use increases their risk of cancer, while some saw simple messages about how to change their drinking habits, and others saw combinations of the spread advert and the simple messages.
The effect of these combinations on drinkers' attempts to reduce their intake and the actual amount of alcohol consumed were then measured.
"We found that pairing information about alcohol and cancer with a particular practical action -- counting their drinks resulted in drinkers reducing the amount of alcohol they consumed," lead author Professor Simone Pettigrew said.
The study found telling people alcohol causes cancer makes them want to drink less, and encouraging them to count their drinks helps them do it.
Pettigrew said many people do not know that alcohol is a carcinogen and there are limited resources available for alcohol harm-reduction campaigns, so it is important to find out which messages resonate best to ensure they have the best chance of working.
An estimated one in six Australians consumes alcohol at levels that put them at risk of a related disease or injury during their lifetime, and one in four at levels placing them at risk of harm on a single occasion at least monthly.
Pettigrew said harmful alcohol use in Australia is a major health issue, which is associated with increased risk of injury, chronic diseases including alcohol-related cancers, and premature death.
It is not just heavy drinkers, even moderate drinkers are at increased risk of several types of cancer.