Monthly Archives: December 2016

For women, heavy drinking has been normalized. That’s dangerous.


By Kimberly Kindy and Dan Keating


UNNATURAL CAUSES | SICK AND DYING IN SMALL-TOWN AMERICA: Since the turn of this century, death rates have risen for whites in midlife, particularly women. In this series, The Washington Post is exploring this trend and the forces driving it.

The ads started popping up about a decade ago on social media. Instead of selling alcohol with sex and romance, these ads had an edgier theme: Harried mothers chugging wine to cope with everyday stress. Women embracing quart-sized bottles of whiskey, and bellying up to bars to knock back vodka shots with men.

In this new strain of advertising, women’s liberation equaled heavy drinking, and alcohol researchers say it both heralded and promoted a profound cultural shift: Women in America are drinking far more, and far more frequently, than their mothers or grandmothers did, and alcohol consumption is killing them in record numbers.

White women are particularly likely to drink dangerously, with more than a quarter drinking multiple times a week and the share of binge drinking up 40 percent since 1997, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal health data. In 2013, more than a million women of all races wound up in emergency rooms as a result of heavy drinking, with women in middle age most likely to suffer severe intoxication.

This behavior has contributed to a startling increase in early mortality. The rate of alcohol-related­ deaths for white women ages 35 to 54 has more than doubled since 1999, according to The Post analysis, accounting for 8 percent of deaths in this age group in 2015.

“It is a looming health crisis,” said Katherine M. Keyes, an alcohol researcher at Columbia University.

Although federal health officials and independent researchers are increasingly convinced that even moderate drinking poses health risks, American women are still receiving mixed messages. Parts of the federal government continue to advance the idea that moderate drinking may be good for you. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a division of the National Institutes of Health, is overseeing a new $100 million study, largely funded by the alcohol industry, that seeks to test the possible health benefits of moderate drinking.

Meanwhile, many ads for alcohol — particularly on social media — appear to promote excessive drinking, which is universally recognized as potentially deadly. These ads also appear to violate the industry’s code of ethics, according to a Post analysis of alcohol marketing.

For example, when girl-power heroine Amy Schumer guzzled Bandit boxed wine in the movie “Trainwreck,” Bandit’s producer, Trinchero Family Estates, promoted the scene on social media. Young women responded with photos of themselves chugging Bandit. Within months, Trinchero said, sales of boxed wines — sometimes called “binge in a box” — jumped 22 percent.

“We saw it first with tobacco, marketing it to women as their right to smoke. Then we saw lung cancer deaths surpass deaths from breast cancer,” said Rear Adm. Susan Blumenthal, a former U.S. assistant surgeon general and an expert on women’s health issues. “Now it’s happening with alcohol, and it’s become an equal rights tragedy.”

Alcohol marketing is regulated primarily by industry trade groups, but dozens of studies have found lapses in their record of enforcing the rules. As a result, an international group of public health experts convened by the World Health Organization’s regional office in Washington, D.C., plans to call in January for governments worldwide to consider legislation similar to laws adopted a decade ago to sharply curtail tobacco advertising.

“The industry’s system of self-regulation is broken,” said Thomas F. Babor, a professor at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine who is aiding the effort. “The alternatives are clear: Either you have to take their system and put it into independent hands, or you have to go with a partial or full legal ban on alcohol marketing.”

Officials with the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), one of the largest U.S. trade groups, defend their record of oversight, saying it has received high marks from federal regulators.

“The Council’s Code of Responsible Practices sets more stringent standards than those mandated by law or regulation, or that might be imposed by government due to First Amendment constraints,” council Senior Vice President Frank Coleman said.

DISCUS tells members that ads should not “in any way suggest that intoxication is socially acceptable conduct.” The Beer Institute tells members that their “marketing materials should not depict situations where beer is being consumed rapidly, excessively.” And the Wine Institute prohibits ads that make “any suggestion that excessive drinking or loss of control is amusing or a proper subject for amusement” or that directly associate use of wine with “social, physical or personal problem solving.”

But these rules appear regularly to be flouted, particularly on alcohol companies’ websites and ­social-media feeds, which are soaking up a growing share of the more than $2 billion the industry is expected to spend on advertising this year. And the trade groups acknowledge that they do not investigate or act on possible violations unless they receive a formal complaint.

Normalizing drinking

Some of the edgiest ads appear on social media — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram — where they can be narrowly targeted toward the inboxes of the most eager consumers.

“They can be very specific,” Facebook spokeswoman Annie Demarest said. “The ads could go to married women ages 21 to 60 who read about wine and leisure. They can also target the ads based on location, interests, demographics, behaviors and connections.”

Jokes about becoming inebriated are common. One Twitter ad features a woman with a bottle the size of a refrigerator tilted toward her lips. Its contents: Fireball Cinnamon Whisky.

Women also are frequently shown drinking to cope with daily stress. In one image that appeared on a company website, two white women wearing prim, narrow-brimmed hats, button earrings and wash-and-set hair confer side by side. “How much do you spend on a bottle of wine?” one asks. The other answers, “I would guess about half an hour . . . ” At the bottom is the name of the wine: Mommy’s Time Out.

Another ad on a company website features a white woman wearing pearls and an apron. “The most expensive part of having kids is all the wine you have to drink,” it says above the name of the wine: Mad Housewife.

This spring, Mad Housewife offered a Mother’s Day promotion: a six-pack of wine called Mommy’s Little Helper.

‘I felt like I wasn’t alone anymore’: Edmonton child diagnosed with FASD after battle for testing


An Edmonton woman says her family has the help it needs after her niece was finally tested and diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder last month.

“I literally just started crying,” said Rita, who is not being identified to protect the privacy of her niece. She had been trying to get her niece tested for nearly a year.

“I felt like I wasn’t alone anymore.”

Last April, Rita shared her story with CBC News. She said caring for her niece was a struggle but if testing confirmed FASD, the family would qualify for much-needed provincial supports.

The problem, however, was that provincial rules require a declaration of prenatal drinking. But the requirement was impossible to meet, Rita said, because her niece’s mother is a drug addict and difficult to track down. They had not been able to confirm prenatal drinking through government records either.

At the time, Alberta Health Services told CBC News the case was still under review. Seven months later, Rita got her wish and testing confirmed what she already believed — that her niece has FASD, among other neurological disorders.

“I felt like I was validated,” said Rita. “It was really a lot of relief.”

Rita said she was told the testing could go ahead because of evidence the girl’s mother used drugs and would not remember if she had been drinking.

‘There’s an entire team that is going to help me in raising this little girl because sometimes it takes a community to raise a child’ – Rita, whose niece was diagnosed with FASD

Since the diagnosis, Rita said her family has received a wide range of supports including respite, mental health programs, school involvement and regular contact with a social worker.

“Everybody is more involved altogether, where before I was just left on my own,” said Rita, “I think that the diagnosis helped get the community involved.”

She praised healthcare workers for their compassion and support during the testing and follow-up.

“There’s an entire team that is going to help me in raising this little girl,” she said. “Because sometimes it takes a community to raise a child and this is one of the scenarios.”

Rita said criteria needs to change and she hopes other children in the same situation will get the diagnosis they need, even if they don’t “fit in the perfect box” in order to successfully grow into adulthood.

“Just so that parents aren’t burnt out. So that we receive the help that we need. Because it’s very challenging to raise a very complex child like her.”

By Andrea Huncar, CBC News

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More pregnant women are smoking marijuana to tame morning sickness: study

morning_sicknessMore pregnant women are smoking pot, sometimes turning to the drug to calm their nausea and morning sickness, a new U.S. report warns.

Columbia University scientists say that the overall percentage of expectant moms smoking weed is low, but it’s steadily increasing.

In 2002, about 2.4 per cent of women admitted to smoking pot while pregnant. By 2014, about four per cent said they got high during their pregnancy.

“Although the prevalence of past-month use among pregnant women is not high, the increases over time and potential adverse consequences of prenatal marijuana exposure suggest further monitoring and research are warranted,” the study’s co-author, Dr. Deborah Hasin, said.

“To ensure optimal maternal and child health, practitioners should screen and counsel pregnant women and women contemplating pregnancy about prenatal marijuana use,” she said.

The U.S. team relied on data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health – about 200,000 women were studied. Turns out, women who weren’t expecting picked up smoking pot more, too.

Keep in mind, medical marijuana is legalized in all 50 states but not for pregnancy-related conditions. The laws don’t touch on the potential harms tied to smoking while pregnant either, though.

The medical community has already warned that prenatal marijuana exposure could be linked to issues, such as low birth weight and impaired brain development in a growing baby.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, for example, recommends that pregnant women and women thinking of conceiving should stay away from marijuana and other drugs.

“Human studies have shown that some babies born to women who used marijuana during their pregnancies respond differently to visual stimuli, tremble more, and have a high-pitched cry, which could indicate problems with neurological development. In school, children prenatally exposed to marijuana are more likely to show gaps in problem-solving skills, memory, and the ability to remain attentive,” the National Institute on Drug Abuse said on its website.

“More research is needed, however, to disentangle marijuana’s specific effects from other environmental factors,” it said.

The full findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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Responsible drinking around the world – The IARD Digest – December 2016


Once a month, the drinks industry-funded International Alliance for Responsible Drinking, which covers alcohol policies worldwide, looks at what’s going on in-market to promote a responsible role for alcohol in society.

  • EU – Estonian EU presidency to focus on alcohol policy

Estonia’s Minister of Health & Labour, Jevgeni Ossinovski, has stated that the country’s Government will focus on matters relating to EU alcohol policy during its presidency of the European Council that runs for the final six months of 2017. Ossinovski stated on social media that EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis acknowledged the country’s plans during a recent meeting, agreeing that “within the framework of the presidency, Estonia will put the focus on several Europe-wide topics of alcohol policy from online marketing to labelling of alcohol.” The Government will announce the priorities of its presidency shortly before commencement at the beginning of July.

  • Lithuania – Government coalition creates harmful drinking prevention programme

New coalition government partners the Lithuanian Peasant & Greens Union Party (LVZS) and the Social Democratic Party of Lithuania (LSDP) have published a draft programme on alcohol regulation and harmful drinking prevention. Delfi reports that the new Government plans to reduce the availability of alcohol by establishing a state-owned beverage alcohol retail monopoly, increase the legal purchase age to 20 years old, and restrict both the number of retail outlets selling alcohol and the hours of sale for alcohol. The Government also intends to increase both the penalties for breaches of sales regulations and licensing laws as well as excise duties on alcohol. “The procedure for issuing licences for the sale of alcohol… will be tightened during the transition period” before the planned monopoly is established. The Government also intends to completely prohibit alcohol advertisements and increase enforcement efforts against unrecorded alcohol.

  • Japan – Authorities outline new tax rates for alcohol

Coalition partners the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the Komeito (KM) party have reportedly agreed on an outline for draft legislation that would simplify and harmonise taxation rates on beer, wine, and sake. The Government’s bill would see beer, so-called quasi-beer, low-malt beers, and beer-based beverages be taxed at JPY54.25 (US$0.47) per 35cl by 2026, and wine and sake would both be taxed at JPY35 per 35cl by October 2023. The Brewers Association of Japan called the proposal a “step forward”, but contended that “the tax rate was still too high” for the prior category compared to other beverages. Independent brewers have asserted that the policy would make it easier to compete with larger brands.

  • France – Monthly consumption declines among youth

The French Monitoring Centre for Drugs & Drug Addiction (OFDT) has published a new report indicating that monthly consumption of beverage alcohol by 15-year-olds declined from 58% in 2006 to 42% in 2014, and that the average age for the first consumption of alcohol in the country is 15.2 years old. The OFDT found that the number of youths who use the internet daily increased from 23% in 2003 to 83% in 2015, a factor that OFDT director François Beck believes is key to “the later consumption of alcohol by youth,”. Beck also said that the “generation born between 2000 and 2005 … spends a lot more time connected to screens than the previous one”, leading to fewer opportunities to consume alcohol. She also noted other factors include public prevention policies and parental behaviour, as parents of adolescents born in 2003 and 2004 are consuming less alcohol and tobacco products than previous generations.

  • Argentina – Buenos Aires bans alcohol advertisements

The Buenos Aires Legislature has passed legislation that will prohibit beverage alcohol advertisements from appearing in outdoor public places, as well as “all forms of advertising, promotion, sponsorship, or funding of cultural, sporting, or educational activities with free access”. Clarín reports that the legislation exempts advertisements that bear no marketing information about the product beyond its brand name, and allocate 75% of the ad to health warning messages including “Excessive alcohol consumption is harmful to health”, “Do not drink alcohol during pregnancy”, “Excessive alcohol consumption causes heart disease”, and “Drinking alcohol excessively shortens your life”. Legislature 3rd VPRoy Cortina stated that progress “in the prevention of alcohol consumption requires setting precise limits on marketing that legitimises it as a social habit”.

  • Greece – Wine excise duty hike falls short of expectations, increases smuggling

A significant increase in the excise duties on beverage alcohol implemented by the Government of Greece earlier this year has only yielded EUR4m (US$4.2m) in tax revenue, compared to a projected EUR65m. The Government’s special consumption tax on alcohol products (EFKOP) was part of measures to increase revenues during a period of poor economic outlook, but alcohol producers and other stakeholders have asserted that it has instead created a surge in unrecorded wine production and smuggling. Greek Wine Federation (SEO) president George Skouras asserted that the practice of unrecorded producers paying legitimate vineyard owners cash in advance for their grapes is “commonplace”. Central Cooperative Union of Vine & Wine Products (KEOSOE) president Giannis Vogiatzis said that the increased excise rate “is a punishment for those who wish to conduct business legally”, estimating that while approximately 65% of wine sold in the past year was domestically-produced and traded through legal channels, only 35% was taxed accordingly.

  • Ireland – Senate pauses debate on national alcohol policy

The Government of Ireland has deferred a Senate debate on its controversial draft national beverage alcohol policy until after the festive period, in a bid to overcome internal divisions over the bill within coalition partner the Fine Gael party. Some Fine Gael Members of the Oireachtas (TDs) have expressed concern that provisions of the draft Public Health (Alcohol) Bill that would require store owners to display alcohol in an area that is separated structurally from the rest of the premises by a physical barrier, could be financially prohibitive to independent retailers, and have asserted they will oppose this section of the bill. Junior Health Minister Marcella Corcoran Kennedy stated she stood behind the bill and did not want “children to be exposed to alcohol as an ordinary commodity beside butter and cheese”, noting that her department has produced information showing that the segregation requirement in the bill could be met by inexpensive means including plastic screens.

  • Russia – Ministry of the Economy wants to regulate beer separately from other alcohol beverages

The Ministry of the Economy will shortly consider a proposal submitted by the Higher School of Economics (HSE) in Moscow and the Union of Russian Brewers that would regulate beer separately to other alcohol beverages. Kommersant reports that the proposal calls for new federal legislation to regulate the marketing and sale of beer. The move would withdraw legislation introduced in 2013 further restricting beer advertising and prohibiting sales for temporary retail structures such as kiosks, sports clubs, as well as on the internet. The document’s authors assert that these restrictions “led to the loss of tens of thousands of jobs out of thousands of companies, small businesses, and individual entrepreneurs, and a significant reduction in tax revenues to budgets of all [administrative] levels”. The authors also call for an extension to the current hours of sale for alcohol to be applied to beer. A Union of Alcohol Producers spokesperson criticised the proposal, stating that “all alcohol beverages containing ethyl alcohol should be governed by a common law and there should not be concessions for any category”. Federal beverage alcohol regulator Rosalkogolregulirovanie (PAP) declined to comment on the proposal.

  • Indonesia – Controversial prohibition bills stalled until 2017

United Development Party (PPP) Deputy Secretary General Ahmad Baidowi has announced that controversial draft legislation that would prohibit or further regulate the production, distribution, and consumption of beverage alcohol will not be completed by the end of 2016 as scheduled, as the PPP is still consulting with stakeholders including Muslim organisations Nadhlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah with the intention of progressing the bill next year. The Jakarta Post reports that the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the National Mandate Party (PAN) have also endorsed the bill, but that it is unlikely to pass by the end of the year even though it was a priority bill in the 2016 National Legislation Program (Prolegnas). Opposition has come from seven other factions that are against a total ban on alcohol and are instead pushing for increased regulation. The Indonesian Consumer Protection Foundation (YLKI) has asserted that total prohibition is unnecessary, and has suggested a compromise of a regulation requiring alcohol producers to list ingredients on their products so consumers “can make their own decisions about whether to buy something”

  • Spain – Ministry of Health tackles underage drinking

The Ministry of Health (MSSSI) has announced that it is drafting legislation intended to reduce underage drinking, which will be similar to existing legislation restricting the availability of tobacco products in the country. Responding to a recent Basque Nationalist Party parliamentary question on underage drinking rates and prevention efforts, Health Minister Dolors Monserrat informed the Congress of Deputies that work on the bill is underway and that the Government would be seeking a cross-party consensus on the issue. Several government officials have stated that underage drinking is indicative of a larger social issue, arguing that it should be dealt with as seriously as smoking. The MSSSI published a report earlier this year indicating that approximately 80% of 14- to 18-year-olds have consumed alcohol at least once, and that the national average age of first consumption for alcohol is 13.9 years old.

For further details on IARD, click here.

Nunavik community group promotes responsible holiday drinking


This is what $300 will buy you in the Nunavik community of Puvirnituq: a cart full of groceries, or a bootlegged 40-ounce bottle of vodka. (PHOTO COURTESY OF INUULITSIVIK)
This is what $300 will buy you in the Nunavik community of Puvirnituq: a cart full of groceries, or a bootlegged 40-ounce bottle of vodka. (PHOTO COURTESY OF INUULITSIVIK)
Shoppers in Puvirnituq were faced with a few tough questions when they visited their local co-op store earlier this month.
A shopping cart greeted customers at the store. It was filled with $300 worth of groceries: bread, pasta, milk, juice, eggs, sugar and other basic staples. Displayed on a stool next to the cart, a 40-ounce bottle of bootlegged vodka, also worth $300.

The display was part of a move by local organizations, which have joined forces ahead of this holiday season to launch an alcohol awareness campaign for the community of 1,700 residents on Nunavik’s Hudson coast.

“We’re trying to change the social norms and standards around drinking,” said Robert Levy Powell, who works in program development for addictions at the Inuulitsivik health centre.

Co-op customers were also invited to fill out questionnaires.

“How can the immediate family help and support pregnant women not to consume alcohol during her pregnancy? Give two examples,” reads one of the questions.

Another one asks: “If you tell someone while drunk that you will kill them (threat) and the next morning you do not remember what happened, can you still be charged and go to court?”

Everyone who filled out a questionnaire was given a raffle ticket to win the groceries on display, donated by the co-op store.

Puvirnituq has long been a hub for bootlegging in the region, but the community is relatively new to the legal access to alcohol; residents voted in 2012 to lift restrictions in place.

A couple years later, the Northern Village moved to allow alcohol orders from the South. By 2015, the local co-op store followed Kuujjuaq’s example and started to sell beer and wine.

Puvirnituq has been adapting ever since.

“Initially there was a decrease in violent crime, but [we’ve seen] an increase in petty crime, like disturbing the peace,” Levy Powell said.

“Then it started to go back to normal. More functional people started drinking more, and binge drinkers were drinking more regularly,” he said. “And it’s putting more stress on our elders to provide for their families.”

“Bootlegging has decreased but it’s still there.”

Starting in 2014, residents of Puvirnituq have also had unlimited access to the amount of alcohol they can order from the South.

But a Nov. 23 referendum changed that when 56 per cent of Puvirnituq voters approved a new bylaw that limits alcohol orders to once a week.

The existing by-law we had was causing problems, explained Puvirnituq municipal councillor Muncy Novalinga.

Residents of Puvirnituq, and even Nunavimmiut in neighbouring communities, were ordering up to eight “mickeys” or 375-ml bottles of booze every day through the community, often for the purpose of bootlegging.

“People were detained more and more, [we were seeing] more injuries and medevacs, so we asked the population if they could approve, to renew and replace the existing by-law,” Novalinga said.

Now residents can order a combination of two items per week: 24 350-ml cans of beer, a four-litre box of wine and up to 40 ounces of up to 70 proof alcohol.

“The fear is that bootlegging will just increase,” Levy Powell said.

So Levy Powell and his his colleagues Maina Beaulne and Nellie Napartuk, who work in promotion and prevention at Inuulitsivik,  teamed up with the Kativik Regional Police Force, the co-operative association and other community organizations to host an addictions awareness and prevention week.

With alcohol largely available to the community, the best option is to equip the population with the tools to consume responsibly, Levy Powell said.

“It’s how to reduce harm,” he said.

That means teaching people how to drink less—a maximum of four drinks in an evening, five for men, he suggested.

Counsellors, police officers, community leaders and even recovered alcoholics have been on the community radio to drive that message home in recent weeks, as holiday parties tend to encourage heavier drinking.

Levy Powell said the campaign hopes to offer simple but important advice about the potential dangers of over-consumption.

In the coming weeks, Levy Powell’s team plans to host a self-screening tool at the community’s Northern store, where residents can take a closer look at how much they drink and smoke.

Smoking is another challenge for Inuulitsivik’s addiction team. The group focuses its prevention efforts on local youth by teaching students about the associated health risks.

On a recent visit to a Grade 6 classroom, Levy Powell said 12 out of 14 students in the class admitted they were smokers.

“I was astounded,” he said.


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Request for Proposals: Understanding the root causes of alcohol consumption during pregnancy


Request for Proposals:

Understanding the root causes of alcohol consumption during pregnancy

A collective impact initiative has been convened in the Calgary region to engage multiple systems, sectors and stakeholders in efforts to holistically address FASD through new practice models, policies and system behaviours that can result in more effective and appropriate interventions for people living with FASD across the lifespan.

The Project Advisory group, which is comprised of CFAN and community partners whose values align with FASD prevention, has issued a Request for Proposals with a deadline of January 13, 2016.

Project Goals:

  • To mobilize knowledge and develop collective understanding of the risk factors associated with women who continue to consume alcohol during pregnancy ;
  • To increase collective understanding of the protective factors that contribute to women’s decisions to abstain from alcohol during pregnancy;
  • To develop appropriate policy, system and program interventions that contribute to a reduced numbers alcohol exposed pregnancies.

Project Scope:

  • Test current assumptions and hypothesis
  • Determine and provide a deeper analysis of the risk factors that contribute women’s continued use of alcohol during pregnancy
  • Understand the role of natural supports in women’s decisions around alcohol and pregnancy
  • Conduct a review and analysis of the local service landscape that support women’s choices during pregnancy
  • Develop concrete policy and program recommendations
  • Recommend messaging specifications that are appropriate to women at higher risk of having an alcohol-exposed pregnancies.


  • Development of an ethics framework for this initiative
  • Literature review
  • Host a community forum for local researchers and practitioners on advancing evidence based practices that support healthy pregnancies
  • Conduct focus groups and interviews with service providers and any other relevant stakeholders
  • Engage monthly meetings with the Project Advisory Committee
  • Completed report with recommendations by November 2017

Budget Current budget available is $22,000 with possibility of additional funds

Timeline start date is January 2016 and end date is November 30, 2017.

Please direct any questions and/or submissions to


It’s time to put warning labels on alcohol bottles, research says

’Tis the season for a little imbibing, but for health officials across the country the message should be about the dangers of alcohol, a serious health concern in many parts of Canada.

The city of Ottawa, for example, is in “crisis” mode about over-consumption of alcohol, says medical officer of health Dr. Isra Levy, who was recently spoke out on the glaring statistics in the city. Alcohol is said to play a role in 20 emergency room visits, 15 court appearances and five hospitalizations every day, along with one death every three days, according to the Ottawa Citizen.

“In a different kind of context this would be sensationalist, front-page tabloid, and serious communication to the community as a major crisis,” said Levy, who feels that there is both societal and corporate pressure against the idea of curtailing personal freedoms when it comes to drinking. “I have said repeatedly over the years, I’m not a prohibitionist,” said Levy. “I get called a prohibitionist when I talk about the fact people end up dead because of alcohol.”

So far, the prevailing approach has been for health agencies to go public with low-risk drinking guidelines, like those put out by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, which caution people to “know your limits” when it comes to drinking.

Not enough, say many health experts, who want to see alcohol manufacturers put warning labels on their products similar to those currently on cigarette packaging. “Alcohol use is linked to over 200 health conditions and the majority of adult Canadians drink alcohol,” said Public Health Ontario’s Dr. Erin Hobin in conversation with CTV News.

“There’s very low awareness among Canadians about the link between alcohol and health,” says Hobin whose organization earlier this year put out a survey showing that the majority of Canadians would be supportive of adding warning labels to alcohol products. The survey found that the most effective warning labels on booze bottles were the ones that included graphic images of the effects of alcohol, including one of a yellow-skinned woman in a hospital bed, suffering from jaundice and cirrhosis of the liver. “It is a pretty extreme image,” says Hobin.

Labelling advocates are likely to meet vocal resistance from beer, wine and spirits producers, however, just as the tobacco industry previously lobbied heavily against the inclusion of warning labels and – in some countries – plain packaging for cigarettes, both of which are thought to lower public interest in the products themselves.

Now, a new study by researchers at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, provides more proof that warning labels and plain packaging on alcohol bottles actually work in dampening consumer interest. Researchers showed to study participants a variety of spirit, wine and beer bottles, decked out with warning labels covering either 50, 75 or 90 per cent of the label surface, along with other labels that had no images but only text (plain packaging). Participants were asked to rate the items in terms of (visual) assessment of the product, thoughts on how other consumers might rate the product and how boring the product seemed.

Researchers found that study participants consistently gave the lowest ratings to the products with the larger warning labels and those with plain packaging. The plain packaging also turned out to do the best job at focusing participants’ attention on the health warning itself.

“This study shows that plain packaging and warning size (similar to the graphic warnings on cigarette packages) affect perceptions about alcohol bottles,” say the study’s authors. “It also shows that plain packaging increases the likelihood for correct health warning recognition, which builds the case for alcohol warning and packaging research and policy.

The new study is published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

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