Health Warnings on Spirit Labels

Health Warnings on Spirit Labels

Published : 03-04-2020 - Categories : Commercial Distilling , Craft Spirits , Legislation

If you know what you are looking for, it can be quite scary when walking through a Liquor Store Aisle and seeing all the illegal products on the shelves - products that can be deemed illegal just by mistakes on the labels.


Now many of these products are blatantly illegal - and the price is already a give-away (selling below Excise Tax for instance).


Others are illegal in terms of the National Liquor Products Act Regulations - for instance:


  • The alcohol percentage is below the minimum for the category (38% instead of the minimum of 43%)
  • Spirit Categories are mixed in the naming on the label (i.e. Brandy Aperitif or Whisky Aperitif)
  • The product contains illegal ingredients (i.e. Honey in Gin)


And then we get the products that are illegal without knowing they are illegal.


This occurs when label designers or clients are unaware of the other laws that impact on Liquor Labels - predominantly SANS 289, the Metrology Act, the Agricultural Products Naming Act, and the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act.


Each of these laws govern another part of the Spirit Packaging. SANS 289 for instance controls the listing of contents, ingredients, method of indication, etc. - most of which is already covered by the National Liquor Products Act Regulations. The Metrology Act covers Spirit Bottle Sizes - something we have already addressed in another article. The Agricultural Products Naming Act covers the use of certain words that are legally defined, for instance, the words "Hand Made" and "Hand Crafted" has legal definitions, and may therefore not be used on labels unless those legal requirements and definitions are adhered too.


The most common mistakes, however, come in with the Health Warning, which is regulated by the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, possibly just because by reading the name, you would not think there would be anything in that Act that applies to Alcoholic Beverages.


The Act, or more specifically, the REGULATIONS RELATING TO HEALTH MESSAGES ON CONTAINER LABELS OF ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES (available for download at this link), states the following:




"alcoholic beveragen means a liquor product as defined in section 1 of the Liquor Products Act, 1989 (Act No. 60 of 1989) and includes beer and traditional African beer as defined in section 1 and Schedule 1 respectively, of the Liquor Act, 2003 (Act No. 59 of 2003).


Health Messages on Container Labels


1. Container labels for alcoholic beverages must contain at least one of the health messages set out in the annexure to these regulations. (Annexure A at the bottom of this article)


2. A health message referred to in subregulation (1) shall: 

  1. be visible, legible and indelible and the legibility thereof shall not be affected by any other matter, printed or otherwise;
  2. be on a space specifically devoted for it which must be at least one eight of the total size of the container label; and
  3. be in black on a white background. 




3. A health message shall be in any of the South African official languages but must be in the same language as that of the container label.


Prohibited Statements


4. The following information or declarations shall not appear on any container label of an alcoholic beverage:


(a) Words, pictorial representations, descriptions which may create the impression that such an alcoholic beverage has been manufactured in accordance with recommendations made by


  1. a health professional registered in terms of any law;
  2. any health organization, association or foundation;


(b) the words "health", "healthy", "heal", "cure", "restorative" or other words or symbols claiming that the alcoholic beverage has health giving, medicinal, therapeutic or prophylactic properties as part of the name or description of the alcoholic beverage; or


(c) the words: Subject to the provisions of the Medicines and Related Substances Act, 1965 (Act no. 101 of 1965) or similar wording that makes reference to the said Act.


Offences and Penalties


5. Any person who contravenes the provisions of these regulations shall be guilty of an offence and upon conviction be liable to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years or to both such fine and imprisonment.


Commencement of Regulations


6. These regulations come into operation 18 months from the date of publication


Where do the Mistakes come in?


The most common mistakes in terms of Health Warnings comes in when considering point 2.2.ii : be on a space specifically devoted for it which must be at least one eight of the total size of the container label; 


This means the Health Warning must occupy a space that makes up 12.5% of the label. 


If you therefore have a single, large, wraparound label around a relatively wide bottle, then you are legally required to have a relatively large Health Warning.


Taking two bottles in my collection at home - well known National Brands (but I'm not going to mention the names) the labels and health warnings measures as:


Product Label Size Label Area Required Health Warning Size Actual Health Warning Size
A 16 cm x 13 cm 208 sq cm 26 sq cm 6 sq cm
B 18 cm x 11 cm 198 sq cm 24.75 sq cm 4.5 sq cm


And I did not even go looking for bottles - it was just the first two I picked up.


But if my Labels are approved, does that not make them Legal?


Yes and No.


Label approval for Craft Spirit Products normally means that the product and/or labels are submitted to the DAFF-Liquor Division in the Polkadraai Offices, in Stellenbosch. These are the individuals responsible for enforcing the National Liquor Products Act Regulations, and the Labelling Requirements set out in that Act and Regulations.


They are not, however, empowered or responsible for the enforcement of the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act under which the Health Warning falls, therefore they have neither the right, nor the responsibility to inform a client that the Health Warning is correct or legal. 


So when you receive Label Approval from DAFF, your label should be compliant to the National Liquor Products Act, but that does not necessarily guarantee compliance to the other Acts.


We have in the past received the following Guidelines which DAFF uses to advise clients on the Health Warnings. These are the Guidelines as published by the ARA  - The Industry Association for Responsible Alcohol Use - and are more encompassing, including the exclusion of Frames around the Health Warning as part of the 12.5% surface area, etc.




  • Alcohol reduces driving ability, don't drink and drive.
  • Don't drink and walk on the road, you may be killed.
  • Alcohol increases your risk to personal injuries.
  • Alcohol is a major cause of violence and crime.
  • Alcohol abuse is dangerous to your health.
  • Alcohol is addictive.
  • Drinking during pregnancy can be harmful to your unborn baby.

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