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The Power of Persuasion, Round Two

October 19, 2016

*Photo Credit: Bernard Weil / Toronto Star

Canadians are exposed to messages and images about alcohol through the advertising of alcoholic beverages in TV shows and movies, on billboards, on multiple social media channels, as well as through alcohol retail outlets.
In May we talked about the impact this has on youth especially, as they are particularly vulnerable to these ads.  But despite the fact that alcohol use is a leading risk factor for disease burden (Lim. et. al, 2010) it is heavily marketed and promoted in Ontario.

Legislation restricting alcohol advertising is a well established and effective policy used by governments around the world (Babor, 2010). Currently in Ontario alcohol advertisements must adhere to guidelines from:

• Advertising Standards Canada
• Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission
• Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO)

Are the Liquor Advertising Guidelines in Ontario working? Currently, there are no restrictions on the quantity of advertising, and there are no regulations around alcohol sponsorship. The standards that alcohol advertisements are expected to adhere to are often ignored. Ads that are found to be inappropriate are pulled only if there is a consumer complaint, and after the ad has already been released and widely viewed. 

The alcohol industry claims that they adhere to codes of responsible advertising, but the World Health Organisation concluded that if governments allow self-regulation by industry they likely risk loss of policy control of the marketing of alcohol, a product that seriously affects public health.

A case in point: Just this past week (Oct 6), the LCBO held a product launch of  Liquormen’s Ol’ Dirty Canadian Whisky in which the “Trailer Park Boys” unveiled  this product  to the Ontario market with a meet-and-greet event.

In the media controversy leading up to the event in which Premier Wynne questioned whether the event should proceed as planned, a compromise was reached whereby certain sections of the Liquormen’s website were to be removed. However, setting the classic Trailer Park Boy’s online content aside, given the government’s own liquor advertising guidelines the promotional event shouldn’t have happened at all.  The guidelines state:

4 (i) “No well-known personality may be used in liquor advertising who may reasonably be expected to appeal, either directly or indirectly, to persons under the legal drinking age if the advertisement contains any direct or indirect endorsement of liquor or the consumption of liquor. This may include historical, political, religious and cultural figures as well as celebrities and sports figures.”

The guidelines define ‘advertising’ as “…any public notice, representation, or activity, including promotional and marketing activities, that is intended to attract attention to liquor, (or) the brand name of liquor…”

The manufacturer has enjoyed considerable free promotion by initiating such a controversial campaign strategy, and has done so with the support of the LCBO.  Clearly, self-regulation is not working.

In December 2015, the government announced that they would be developing a comprehensive Alcohol Strategy to ensure a coordinated and socially responsible approach to the sale and control of alcohol in Ontario.  OPHA and other health organizations have long been calling for such a strategy to ensure buy in and support across government ministries.  However, the promised Spring 2016 deadline has passed. 

Alcohol in Ontario is not just about economics, growing business, choice and convenience.  Alcohol is not the same as other commodities in the marketplace.  Alcohol impacts people’s health, their lives and their communities.  It costs our government more than what is made through sales and taxation.  Alcohol advertising and promotional events like these perpetuate a culture of excessive alcohol use, and target vulnerable populations such as youth. 

For more information please see OPHA Issue Series: Alcohol Advertising and Marketing

Jackie Kay-LePors
Ottawa Public Health


Babor T., Caetano R., Casswell S., Edwards G., Giesbrecht N., Graham K. et al. (2010) Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity—Research and Public Policy. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.  Retrieved Oct 12, 2016 at:
Booth A., Meier P., Stockwell T., Sutton A., Wilkinson A., Wong R. (2008)  Independent Review of the Effects of Alcohol Pricing and Promotion. Part A: Systematic Reviews. Sheffield, UK: School of Health and Related Research, University of Sheffield;  Retrieved October 12, 2016 at :!/file/PartA.pdf

Heung, C., Rempel, B. & Krank, M.  (2012). Strengthening the Canadian Alcohol Advertising Regulatory System.  Canadian Journal of Public Health; 103(4):e263-e266.

Lim S., Vos T., Flaxman A. D., Danaei G., Shibuya K., Adair-Rohani H., et al. A comparative risk assessment of burden of disease and injury attributable to 67 risk factors and risk factor clusters in 21 regions, 1990–2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. Lancet; 380: 2224–60.

Ontario Public Health Association. (2015). Alcohol marketing and advertising: strategies to reduce alcohol-related harms and costs in Ontario. OPHA Issue Series. Retrieved from:

Taylor, G.  (2016). The Chief Public Health Officer’s Report on the State of Public Health in Canada, 2015: Alcohol Consumption in Canada.  Retrieved on October 12, 2016:

 World Health Organization (2007). WHO Expert Committee on Problems Related to Alcohol Consumption (second report). WHO Technical Report Series 944. Geneva: WHO; 2007.