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Alcohol marketing in Ontario: a summary


I Introduction
II The impact of alcohol marketing
III Regulating alcohol marketing
IV Federal regulation of alcohol marketing
V Provincial regulation of alcohol marketing
VI Local regulations
VII Recommendations to support public health
VIII Recommendations for local action
IX Future areas of research to support public health
X Conclusion

--Submitted by Safia Mohamed, Practicum Student, Health Promotion Capacity Building, Public Health Ontario, and Jason LeMar, Health Promotion Consultant, Health Promotion Capacity Building, Public Health Ontario

This article is based on the following PHO knowledge product: Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion (Public Health Ontario). Focus On: Alcohol Marketing. Toronto, ON: Queen's Printer for Ontario; 2016. Available from:

I Introduction

Alcohol marketing includes the use of various media platforms promoting positive beliefs and perceptions of alcohol consumption. In recent years, alcohol marketing strategies have evolved to target vulnerable populations in Canada. These populations can consist of youth, young adults, women of child bearing age, alcohol-dependent individuals, and other sub-groups. The use of dynamic interfaces such as Twitter have highlighted the gaps within Canada’s current alcohol advertising regulations, and the need for a stricter regulatory framework both on the federal and municipal level.

II The impact of alcohol marketing

Research has indicated that youth and young adults are especially influenced by alcohol advertising. [1] Exposure to these advertisements have been shown to influence drinking norms, perceptions and expectations of alcohol use within this population. [2-4] Marketing strategies often include associating alcohol with enjoyable activities such as parties and celebrations and also with desirable attributes such as sexual prowess and sociability. [5] These associations result in changed attitudes towards alcohol, positive expectations about alcohol use, and an overall increased intention to consume alcohol. [6,7]  There are limited available Canadian data on industry marketing spending practices; however, research from the United Kingdom (UK) indicates the UK alcohol industry spends approximately £800 million per year ($1.3 billion CDN) to promote the sale of alcohol. [8]

III Regulating alcohol marketing

There are many different approaches to regulating alcohol marketing, with a variety of strategies employed across countries. [9-14]  

1) Models of regulation

  • Mandatory regulation: controls on alcohol advertisements which are set in legislation.
  • Voluntary regulation: the industry pledges to follow a set of self-generated standards.
  • No regulation: no restrictions or guidelines exist.

2) Regulatory bodies

  • Third party enforcement: any enforcement body that is independent from the alcohol industry.
  • Self-regulation: the alcohol industry chooses to develop guidelines for marketing, monitoring and enforcement.
  • No regulatory body exists.

3) Levels of restriction

  • Total restriction: a legislated total ban on alcohol advertising.
  • Partial restriction: a legislated ban on advertising specific products on certain media platforms or in certain locations.
  • No restrictions exist.

Research indicates that although the alcohol industry supports self-regulation and voluntary regulation, the industry does not consistently abide by these regulations. [15, 16] Specifically, industry advertising codes have been seen to not protect populations such as youth, [9] persons in recovery, persons dependent on alcohol, and non-drinkers from exposure to alcohol marketing. This is in part due to the codes and regulations not applying to all types of marketing platforms, including ads delivered through SMS technology, internet ads, events sponsorship and branded merchandise. [10, 17] Furthermore, it appears the alcohol industry and public health experts do not interpret advertising codes and restrictions in the same way, resulting in uncertainty regarding appropriateness of advertisements. [18]

IV Federal regulation of alcohol marketing

Currently, the Canadian Radio-Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) regulates all advertising on television and radio. [17] The code put forth by the CRTC was last updated in 1996 and includes a set of restrictions related to alcohol advertising. [19] The code does not extend beyond television and radio platforms, and does not indicate the volume of alcohol advertisements permitted. It includes six key themes relating to alcohol advertising: [20]

  1. Advertising must not encourage the general consumption of alcohol (Clauses A, I, K and N).
  2. Advertising must not promote the irresponsible or illegal use of alcohol (Clauses H, J, O, P and Q).
  3. Advertising must not associate alcohol with social or personal achievement (Clauses E, G, and F).
  4. Advertising must not be directed to persons under the legal drinking age (Clauses B, C and D).
  5. Advertising must not be associated with the use of motor vehicles or with activities requiring a significant degree of skill or care (Clauses L and M).
  6. Contests and promotions cannot be condition on the purchase or consumption of alcohol (Clause A).

V Provincial regulation of alcohol marketing

Through a combination of strategies Ontario has attempted to regulate alcohol marketing across many different platforms as outlined in the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) Liquor Advertising Guidelines: Liquor Sales Licensees and Manufacturers. [21] Additionally, through the Liquor Licence Act, Ontario regulates alcohol advertising by liquor manufacturers, licensees, ferment on premise operators, liquor delivery licence holders and special occasion permit holders. [22] The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) also ensures all marketing materials depict drink sizes that are comparable with Canada’s low-risk drinking guidelines and align with their own social responsibility mandate (personal communication, Vincent Caron, Senior Policy Advisor, LCBO, April 29th, 2016).

VI Local regulations

One method used to restrict alcohol marketing on a local level involves incorporating tailored alcohol advertising regulations into municipal alcohol policies. This is an approach used to ensure alcohol advertising messages within each municipality do not contradict any previous efforts of public health in relation to this issue. [1]

VII Recommendations to support public health

There is a need for an alcohol marketing regulatory framework in Ontario. Ideally, this framework would work to reduce alcohol marketing exposure as well as monitor all forms of marketing. [13] Within this framework it is recommended that the content for advertisements is regulated to ensure the protection of youth and young adults. [18] Regulating the volume of alcohol marketing is also important, as restrictions on the quantity, location, time of day, and venue of advertisements can minimize the populations’ exposure. [18, 23] Finally, it is recommended that regulations are enacted to monitor all types of marketing platforms including new and emerging forms of media used for alcohol advertising. [14, 18] 

VIII Recommendations for local action

The following recommendations are ways Ontario Public Health Units (PHUs) can play a larger role in the regulation of alcohol advertising:
Support for stronger alcohol marketing policies: Through collaboration with other stakeholders PHUs can support further restrictions on alcohol marketing at both the provincial and federal level. [24]

Controlling alcohol marketing at the local level: At the community-level PHUs can work to strengthen current alcohol marketing control policies. [1]

Reducing the impact of alcohol marketing practices: By educating youth and vulnerable populations in topics surrounding media literacy, alcohol advertisements and associated harms of alcohol use, PHUs can work to reduce the impact of alcohol marketing. [1]

Supporting a comprehensive approach to alcohol policy: PHUs can work to inform policy makers on the relationships that exist between alcohol marketing, availability, pricing, outlet density and harm. [1]

IX Future areas of research to support public health

There is a need to better understand the alcohol advertising landscape in Canada and Ontario to support healthy public policies around alcohol marketing. [1] Currently there is more information from other countries compared to Canada for both alcohol advertising costs and exposure of vulnerable populations to alcohol advertising. [1] An alcohol advertising monitoring system would help assess alcohol advertising exposure to Canadians and Ontarians and the impact of ad volume on consumption and alcohol-related harms. [1] Additionally, there is a lack of evidence examining the relationship between exposure to alcohol messaging on TV, movies, music and alcohol advertising on social media on consumption and alcohol related harms, and future research could focus on these specific areas.

X Conclusion

Currently, there is a lack of regulation in place to protect the public from the increased use of new media platforms to promote alcohol consumption making alcohol advertising a growing public health concern. There is a need to develop more extensive controls surrounding the marketing content of alcohol advertisements and the volume of alcohol marketing, especially those directed toward vulnerable populations. [10. 22, 23, 26] PHUs can support current alcohol restrictions and work to enhance and promote new ones. Through these efforts, PHUs can impact the development of policies that reduce the population’s exposure to alcohol marketing.


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