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Alcohol Advertising in Canada

Alcohol Advertising

Under Canadian law, alcohol companies are prohibited from using any Alcohol Advertising with the potential to harm Canadian youth. There is a prohibition against any alcohol advertisement with the following characteristics:

In spite of these regulations, according to the Association to Reduce Alcohol Promotion in Ontario (ARAPO) about one-third of all complaints lodged against advertisers in Canada are directed towards alcohol companies.

Do Alcohol Advertisements in Canada Cause More Teenage Girls to Drink?

Controversy continues in Canada over alcohol advertising practices due to its negative impact on teens, especially teenage girls. In 2013, the prestigious Canadian Medical Association Journal published an editorial piece entitled “Big alcohol catches up with adolescent girls.” In the editorial, CMAJ reports that Canadian girls from the age of thirteen are consuming as much alcohol as boys the same age. Other research shows that teenage Canadian girls are exposed to increased amounts of alcohol advertisements.

Research on the Effects of Advertising on Teenage Alcohol Consumption

The CAMJ editorial says there is no Canadian research yet to prove the direct connection between increased exposures to alcohol advertising and increased alcohol use by teenage Canadian girls, but the causal link has a high probability, allowing for the influence of other factors.

There are many American studies as reported by the John Hopkins Institute that directly link alcohol advertising to increased consumption of alcohol by teens. One research report entitled “Media: Drinking Portrayals, Alcohol Advertising, and Alcohol Consumption Among Youth” provides a comprehensive review of all the studies of alcohol advertisement and its effect on teenage drinking.

The negative influence on teenage Canadian girls from alcohol advertising, according to the Globe and Mail, comes from the fact that many of the ads show sexually provocative females, or female body parts, to make the alcohol appear to have a direct relation to female attractiveness.

Examples of provocative alcohol commercials given by the Globe and Mail include:

  • Implied Message: Alcohol attracts men like breasts – A woman in a TV ad wearing a tightly fitting t-shirt pours a beer into a cup held in front of her bosoms, without showing the woman’s face.
  • Implied Message: Alcohol and dancing creates a nice derriere – A beer commercial showing a close up of a woman’s rear-end while dancing during a party.
  • Implied Message: Alcohol is romantic – In one commercial, a man embraces a woman standing next to a tequila bottle, and she smiles.

Canadian Alcohol Advertisements are Intended for Adults

To give credit to the alcohol companies, the advertisements are indeed sexy, but intended to motivate adults to buy more of their products. The problem is these implied messages are not lost on teenage Canadian girls and boys. The constant bombardment of alcohol advertisements with these themes clearly convinces young girls and boys that drinking alcohol makes them sexy and attractive.

Alcohol Advertisement Compared to Tobacco Advertisement

Alcohol and tobacco advertising are similar in that many studies have shown there is a direct link between advertising and teenage consumption of the products. The effect is noticeable even in other forms of advertising. In Canada and the U.S., tobacco advertising is banned on television. Point-of-sale advertising of tobacco in the stores where the products sell is permissible.

A study done at Stanford Prevention Research Center, found that exposure to cigarette point-of-sale advertising at retail stores substantially increased the probability that teens would start smoking. Teenagers, who went to these stores frequently, were twice as likely to smoke as others who did not visit such stores. The influence of advertising on teenage behavior is clearly apparent.

Alcohol’s Effect on Canadian Teenage Girls

Another serious challenge coming from this trend of increased alcohol consumption by teenage girls in Canada, as pointed out by the CMAJ, is the different effects of alcohol on the health of females as compared to males.

  • Physical Effects – If, for example, a male consumes two pints of beer and a female of the same age consumes two pints of beer, because the average female teenager has a smaller body mass than the average male of her age, the female is effectively getting a higher dose of alcohol when consuming the same amount as the male.
  • Psychological Effects – One study referred to by the CMAJ shows that the effect on teenage girls from alcohol advertisements in magazines and on television has a clear emotional and social impact on girls that differs from the effect on boys.
  • Health Effects – According to the CMAJ, besides the known health risks from consuming alcohol of cancer, cirrhosis, and heart disease. Risks that are specific to females are pregnancy from undesired sex while drunk and increased risk of breast cancer. One study reported that teenage Canadian girls who start drinking alcohol in the freshman year of high school or sooner are much more likely to have a drinking problem by high school graduation.

Alcohol Advertising and Youth in Canada

It is clear from this trend, of increased alcohol consumption by teenage girls in Canada that advertising plays a role in both the age that the girls start drinking and the amount they consume. How about the Canadian boys? Ēducalcool reports these facts:

  • Drinking Starts Early – A study of fifth and sixth grade students in Quebec reported that 50% of boys plus 30% of girls, who were less than twelve years old, has already consumed alcohol. The average age to start drinking for all teens reported by Statistic Canada is 12.4 years old.
  • When They Drink, Teenagers Drink Excessively – Overall teenage drinking has decreased from 71.3% of teens saying they had a drink in the past 12 months during the year 2000, to 60.4% responding the same way in the year 2006. Nevertheless, they drink a lot when they do drink. For boys, 67.4% said they drink five or more drinks during a single occasion, for girls this was 64.6%.
  • Older Teens Drink Excessively More Often – As they get older, the percentage of Canadian teens that drink excessively increases dramatically. At age twelve, excessive drinking is 30%, age thirteen it is 53%, age fourteen 59%, age fifteen 68% , age sixteen 78%,  and at age 17 and older 83%.
  • Older Teens See More Alcohol Advertising – Every year as they get older Canadian teens have more exposure to alcohol advertising, which correlates to the pattern of increased consumption. There is a wonderful interactive alcohol quiz from MediaSmarts about the impact alcohol advertising has on Canadian youth, which is a good education tool. It says that by the age of eighteen, Canadian youth will be exposed to more than 100,000 advertising message related to alcohol

Canadian Teens Respond to Alcohol Advertising Techniques

The Association to Reduce Alcohol Promotion in Ontario (ARAPO) reported on Alcohol Advertising and Youth. They found that Canadian teens respond to alcohol advertising messages due to the impact of four influential factors, which are:

  • Attractiveness -Models and actors in the alcohol advertisements are the “beautiful” people who are socially desirable.
  • Age Identification – Teens look at these adults in the ads as role models and want to be grown up as they are.
  • Linking – Continued exposure of advertising messages, especially when combined with great music, humour, and sexy images are very influential over time on teens and teen behaviors.
  • Social Culture – The more popular the ads become, they more influential they are on teens. Examples of this come from the Budweiser campaigns of the Bud Frogs, “Whassup,” and “I Love You Man.” Among young adults and teens, these campaigns had the highest “liking” ratings of any global advertising campaigns for any type of product.

Alcohol Advertising and Canadian Adults

A recent study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) as reported in the Huffington Post concluded that Canadians drink at a level that is 50% above the global average. Those who drink the most in Canada are from the ages of 15 to 29. Even though Statistic Canada reports overall consumption for people in this age range has decreased from 82.9% in 2004 to 70.8% in 2001, these teens and young adults will still have more deaths caused by alcohol. In Canada, unlike tobacco products, health warnings are not required to appear on alcohol products; however manufacturers may voluntarily use them at the manufacturer’s discretion.

In 2012, Canadians spent CA$19 billion on alcohol, which was a 3.6% increase over 2011. Wine has overtaken beer in popularity. Premium brands of wine accounted for the increased sales revenues. In order to maintain brand awareness in Canada, according to MediaSmarts alcohol companies spend over CA$160 million on advertising each year.

Official Position of the Canadian Alcohol Industry

Alcohol producers claim that all alcohol advertising does is to encourage adults to try new brands. They claim the intent is not to increase overall drinking and the advertisements do not target teenagers. The alcohol industry believes the current alcohol advertising regulations and alcohol advertising laws are sufficient for their products. They frequently include the message to “ please drink responsibly ” in their media campaigns.


The Ontario Health Promotion E-Bulletin challenges the alcohol industry’s position with the following conclusions, which are:

  • Alcohol advertisements in Canada have a negative effect on Canadian youth
  • Alcohol advertisement pre-programs alcohol drinking in the minds of very young teens starting around age eleven or twelve
  • New alcohol drinkers are recruited from youth to replace the aging ones
  • Existing drinkers increased consumption and profits continue to go up, even though overall drinking in Canada is going down
  • Alcohol ads increase the difficulty of abstinence for those who have a drinking problem

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