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The Effectiveness of Regulating Alcohol Advertising: Policies and Public Health

I Introduction

The Association to Reduce Alcohol Promotion in Ontario (ARAPO) is proud
to release its most recent resource on alcohol advertising in Canada.
The Effectiveness of Regulating Alcohol Advertising: Policies and
Public Health, by Rebecca Fortin and Ben Rempel, takes a comprehensive
look at the current policies used to regulate alcohol advertising in
Canada and throughout the world. The effectiveness of alcohol
advertising control policies were assessed using current research and
Canadian informants in the field of alcohol and alcohol advertising
control issues.

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II Why control alcohol advertising?

Alcohol advertising seems to be everywhere. It is on our television
programs and radio stations, in our magazines, and on our bus shelters.
In 2003, there were nearly 700,000 alcohol ads aired across Canada with
over 400,000 airing in Ontario alone.

The alcohol industry uses loud popular music; young, good looking
partiers; humour; sex appeal;  and other techniques to sell their
product and create the image that the good life is full of alcohol.
These characteristics of ads are arguably popular to those of legal
drinking age; however, there is a huge spill over market into the
underage category that these ads are just as attractive to. What the
alcohol advertisements fail to tell is that

  • Exposure to alcohol advertising results in youth
    having a more favourable attitude towards drinking and a greater
    intention to drink as adults,
  • Exposure or awareness of alcohol advertising may lead to heavier or more frequent drinking, and
  • Exposure to alcohol advertising significantly
    increases the risk of adolescent alcohol use and associated
    consequences.

"Adolescents start to drink in response to advertising and other
influences in their everyday environment and continue to drink in
response to advertising..."   ~ Ellickson et al., 2005

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III What are the alcohol advertising control policies in Canada?

Before June 1995, the Canadian federal government, through the Canadian
Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), held mandatory
pre-clearance of all alcohol advertisements. All advertisements were
required to meet the CRTC's Code for Broadcast Advertising of Alcoholic
Beverages before public distribution. In 1997, the CRTC disbanded the
mandatory pre-clearance process of alcohol advertisements.

Political pressure from the Association of Canadian Distillers and
government funding restraints were significant events around this time
and may have influenced the relaxation of the mandatory pre-clearance
process. The industry now pays Advertising Standards Canada (ASC), an
advertising review agency, to assist in complying with the national
CRTC regulations for broadcast advertising. In 2002, ASC expanded its
review services to include the Ontario guidelines set out by the
Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO). As such, efforts to
control alcohol advertisements are paid by the industry and are
enforced under the Liquor Licence Act, whereby no Ontario advertiser
may advertise liquor unless it is follows the guidelines set by AGCO.

"The extent to which these restriction and guidelines are enforced, in
practice, remains a matter of grave concern among those working in the
fields of public health and safety in Ontario" ~ Hovius & Solomon,
2001

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IV What are the limitations of the alcohol advertising control policies in Canada?

There are difficulties in regulating all sources of alcohol advertisements using the current system because

  • the system only covers traditional media (i.e.,
    print, radio, television) and does not control all types of advertising
    including product placements in movies and television programs,
    sponsorship of youth functions, or the Internet; and
  • there are challenges presented by international trade agreements.

The guidelines set by advertising standards agencies are

  • unclear and not comprehensive, and
  • can be disregarded by the industry.

The complaint process offered by advertising standards agencies is

  • confusing with multiple sets of regulating codes and procedures;
  • relatively unknown by the public; and
  • according to some, a band-aid solution.

Once the advertisement is in public view, "the damage has already been
done - the ad is out there, the public has seen it and has reacted to
it" ~ Key Informant, 2005

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V What are the solutions?

One solution is to implement new and effective alcohol advertising
control policies. Research has suggested that the gold standard would
be to implement a complete ban on all alcohol advertisements. More and
more studies are finding that complete bans are effective in reducing
alcohol usage and its negative effects, such as drinking and driving.

"We would all be better served if there were more limits to the [alcohol] industries' right
 to advertise" ~ Key Informant, 2005

A complete ban on all alcohol advertisements is an ambitious goal,
which should be worked towards. However, in the interim there are a
number of improvements that could be made to the current system to
better control alcohol promotion and protect Canadian youth against
potential negative effects. Examples of how to improve the current
regulatory system include

  • Reinstate mandatory pre-clearance of alcohol advertisements, at
    the final stage of production, by federal and provincial bodies with a
    strong public interest mandate;
  • Have one standard set of guidelines all agencies use for pre-clearance and complaint systems; and
  • Cap the total quantity of alcohol advertising and use stricter threshold policies for audiences with youth in attendance.

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VI What you can do to protect public health and safety?

  1. Complain to politicians, the industry, and advertising standards
    agencies about the current regulatory system and about specific alcohol
    advertisements
  2. Pressure politicians to mandate alcohol advertising control
    policies with proven effectiveness (e.g., complete alcohol advertising
    bans)
  3. Educate the community, including youth, about the laws and regulations

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VII Conclusion

A detailed look into effective alcohol control policies and
recommendations to governing bodies, advertising standards agencies,
and public health professionals is available in the full report.

"The Effectiveness of Regulating Alcohol Advertising: Policies and
Public Health" is available free of charge for downloading by visiting
http://www.apolnet.ca/arapo. Printed copies can be obtained by
contacting the ARAPO coordinator, Rebecca Fortin (ARAPO@opha.on.ca).