Yo Ho ! There be warnings ahead



There are rumblings from the far side o’ the future that we may end up with warning labels on our alcoholic beverages.   Which might be interesting, considering there is advocacy for nutrition labels as well.  You know – highlighting all those ’empty calories’ – energy without nutrition.

I am no expert on the law, but considering what I do know about legislation, I’ll guess the reason you have a listing of ingredients and calories on a Pizza Pop  but not on a beer…is because, legally speaking, beer is not Food !  Food has the potential to provide your body with important sustenance, vitamins, protein.  Whereas beer is….well, you know what beer is.

Labels to better enrich our understanding of what we are getting up to and in to when we drink has been studied, such as in the video above from Global News.  If certain advocacy groups succeed (such as health agencies who want you to live long and prosper) – you’ll be see labels like the ones below, as highlighted by CTV.

alcohol warning

The question is whether these kinds of labels are effective in changing drinking behaviors.  I think it’s fair to say that they raise awareness about the issue, as they are so graphic as to be unavoidable and unmistakable.

But they would be just one piece of a change in our social philosophy regarding alcohol – where it begins with more persons working to have more non-drinking days, as part of the Low Risk Drinking Guidelines.


The Invasion from Outer Headspace


Here’s a heady thought for a Tuesday morning.   I was looking at an article from Britain that examines how counter-culture has been exploited to sell booze.  I then began to wonder about alcohol marketing here in the Americas.

Before I delve too deep into that notion, let’s first acknowledge what Adbusters would have us understand:  branders and marketers are working to continually encroach on our intellectual, public, private, and (shared) cultural space.  They are looking to invade, conquer and settle down into our social-political-consumerist reality.

Psycho-Imperialism, I’ll playfully say…

Looking around, I see marketers forging brand identities so omnipresent that they become part of us.  Think about ‘Kleenex’ and ‘Javex’ – words that are used interchangeably with ‘tissue’ and ‘bleach’.  Or, ponder the ubiquity of ‘Coke’ and its association with everything.  These brands have melded into the cerebral landscape so indelibly that we know these products unconsciously – they have become one with our collective culture.

Alcohol branding is no different.  Instead of selling booze, they are instead selling ideas, experiences, excitement and associations that prey upon our emotions.   Maybe you’ve seen popular, ‘cool’ and funny ideas, such as The Most Interesting Man in the World.  But there are also ‘counter-cool’ ideas.   If you are feeling a little rebellious and anti-establishment, well, the establishment can sell that to you as well.   For example, certain energy drinks are marketed to be associated with danger, risk-taking and vigor.  Combine with vodka.

Certain beers are sold to us as tough, different, edgy, escapist, or raw.

Certain whiskeys are portrayed as daring, character-building, fiery, or we are somehow meant to believe they are consumed as an act of leadership or maturity.

How very, very strange.


Photo by Sean MacEntee (Flickr) via Creative Commons. [No changes]

Who’s Responsibly Responsible?

Social responsibility.  [Please] Drink responsibly.    There’s a lot of drinking going on, and a lot of angling for ownership over who’s doing it in the most responsible way.   It’s happening the world over.

Looking out there almost at random, here’s one from Papua, New Guinea:

drink respons

Their article from the Port Moresby General Hospital Admin staff is spouting much of the same advice that any provincial health agency might:  a culture of moderated consumption.   All good stuff if you care about your health.

Here in Ontario, we have some political activity over the perception of responsibility.   Check out the video above, or in case you hadn’t heard these radio PSA’s, click here:



These radio PSA’s come from OPSEU, or the union that represents LCBO employees. They have a wealth of concerns over the future selling of beer in grocery stores.  In this case, responsibility is their angle of approach to inform us that expanding points of availability will lead to more youth drinking, impaired driving and other problems.

The problem is even more fundamental, unfortunately.  Research tells us that if there are more outlets, and expanded hours, consumption goes up…period.   This includes us responsible adults and moderate drinkers who have the occasional glass (half bottle?) of wine or beer (six pack?) on the weekends.   We would casually drink more because it’s simply more available.  How irresponsible…!

Coolness is the Concept

How Many Drinks talks a lot about social norms, and I am wondering whether art imitates life, or life imitates art, when it comes to drinking and entertainment culture.

For example, do movies reflect how we live – in this case, how we drink?

Or do people copycat what they see, and choose to behave like on-screen characters?

You don’t have to look too hard to see how Hollywood glamorizes and normalizes booze.

James Bond drinks his martinis and the Vesper shaken not stirred.

An entire trio of movies was made, based simply on a group of buddies having a hangover.

Simon Pegg made a strange film about an epic, crawling quest to return to a pub.   Nicholas Cage explored the desperate depths of alcoholism in Leaving Las Vegas.   Tom Cruise made an iconic 80’s film called Cocktail, where the world’s last barman poet takes center stage.  And of course, Old School is a movie exploring all the nuances of a kegger.

There are thousands of movies and TV shows that show us alcohol in all its raging, subtle, ridiculous, terrible, shocking, amusing and sickening glory.  If you bother to observe how alcohol touches the lives of characters in film and television, you’ll see how it runs the entire length of human emotion and experience.

Comedy.  Tragedy.  Ugliness.  Absurdity.    And of course….Cool.

That’s the part that gets us – sometimes young people, but adults too.  We get convinced it’s cool.   ‘Cool’ is a complicated concept.  But we all understand what it is, deep down.  And so do alcohol companies who want us to drink…using ads, commercials and product placement to make us think their product is cool.


Is Booze the Main Event?


Sometimes we draw odd lines.  For example, a recent survey reported on by the CBC seems to suggest that we are okay with alcohol being served at public events.  Or folks from Halifax are.  And I’ll make a leap here to imply that this study might somewhat reflect our larger attitudes as Canadians – as the study was pretty rigorous and scientific.

Some events close to home:  RibFest, Lawn Chair Luminata, or  Promenade Days in Barrie. Or in Orillia, there is Movies in the Park, the Mariposa Downtown Stage and the Scottish Festival. Some of these include alcohol, and some don’t – a mix, to get you thinking.

In Simcoe and Muskoka, we have events in high season, as we milk summer to maximize tourism and festival-like feelings.   Can we be blamed for our frivolity, and the desire for a beverage or two?  As in all such things, it’s about moderation.

The same survey from Halifax discovered that 80% of respondents thought it permissible for their municipality to partner with an alcohol company to facilitate an event.   On the other side, there was a majority who didn’t want their municipality to allow alcohol advertising on public or municipally-owned space, such as park benches, or inside arenas.

So, it appears we don’t mind booze being available at these events (in fact, many times, we expect it).  And we are okay with the alcohol companies with their sponsorship money, their banners and tents, their swag and giant inflatable beers, etc etc…as long as they are temporary and when the party is over, they take it all away.

[Blink. Pause. Blink.]

Now, other research has proven that alcohol advertising has bad effects, raising consumption among youth (especially), as it plays a big role in normalizing booze and making it part of our culture.   This summer, this advertising is temporarily everywhere.

Wine, Women and the new Popular Song

Looking at an article from TVO reporter Steve Paiken, it appears that women are drinking more these days.  Or rather, more than they have in recent decades, in part due to economics.  We know that disposable income factors into consumption for both genders.

When we consider what we drink, I am guessing many of you don’t think of booze as cheap.   If alcohol is an indulgence, like chocolate or cake, or well, chocolate cake…then it’s a fairly costly indulgence.  The combined costs of wholesale, overhead, profit and taxes in Ontario have the major brands of beer going for about $38 bucks for 24, and costing more per bottle if you buy fewer of them.

Considerably popular with women, wine is no cheaper, with a $17 dollar bottle producing five standard servings of wine, or roughly $3 dollars and change per serving, with some bottles costing much more.  Liquor, widely variable, but again, not the cheapest thing depending on your income.

And when disposable income goes up, so does consumption on average.   This makes some sense – when we can afford to drink, we do, and other ‘extravagances’  tend to follow suit, such as new clothes, vacations and toys like kayaks and roller blades.

So it follows that as women are earning more in their careers, they spend some of that on alcohol.  Meantime, marketers are well aware of this trend, and are spending their advertising dollars with a mind to attract females.  Troubling is the result:  young women drinking as much or more than their male counterparts, with consequences to their health and well-being.

Beer, Wine and the Almighty Dollar


Cohn Pic

The economics of alcohol are perplexing.  One need only look so far as how beer and wine are sold in this province to see a picnic basket of complexities, with brewers, vintners, retailers and the province all avidly negotiating for the means of distribution, revenue and profit.

Martin Cohn, a reporter from the Toronto Star, has done a lot of digging on this topic and has published a series of articles providing real insight into the issues and sub-issues governing how alcohol and money are going to flow in the coming days.

A good example is his April article on how the province is working to make changes in The Beer Store, to allow for competition from sales in grocery stores, and to mandate revisions in their business practices, such that small brewers get more market share.   With craft beer and cider sales growing rapidly, this is no coincidence – instead this is a response to market forces.

Cohn also exposed several nuances of the wine industry in Ontario and the various distribution elements, such as retail licensing – a practice of which most folks aren’t aware – such that selling wine in this province is a mine field of bureaucracy and jockeying for position.

The common thread binding these themes is that the major players are working hard to keep their incomes hopping, and eagerly awaiting a harvest of revenue.  Everyone thinks of booze as business, and virtually no one is treating alcohol for what it is: a legal drug with a litany of associated major health consequences to individuals and society.

Instead, much of our alcohol awareness is focused on common scapegoats – youth drinking and impaired driving.  Yet, those problems are only symptoms of a larger and more costly ailment.   Moreover, we ignore or dismiss such notions with well spun ideals of ‘social responsibility’ that often avail the alcohol industry.

After all, the verb in the pervasive slogan Please Drink Responsibly is drink.  Please.