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Alcohol advertising influencing teen girls; should contain health warnings

06/10/2013 12:09 EDT | Updated 08/10/2013 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - The Canadian Medical Association Journal is raising concerns about alcohol advertising, saying young girls are being influenced by the ads the industry says are aimed at young women.

The editorial in this week's issue of the journal calls for health warnings to be embedded in alcohol ads so that young girls understand the risks of drinking.

Dr. Ken Flegel, author of the editorial, said studies from the United States show that adolescent girls see about 68 per cent of alcohol advertisements aimed at young women, where drinking-aged women see about one-quarter of the ads.

"They spend more time on the Net, they spend more time watching television, they spend more time flipping through magazines," Flegel, a senior associate editor responsible for research at the journal, said of adolescent girls.

Flegel is also a general internist and professor of medicine at McGill University in Montreal.

The message in the editorial resonated for Dr. Robert Mann, a senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.

CAMH, as the institute is known, conducts a survey every two years that asks high school students in Ontario about their alcohol and drug use. Thirty years of data have been gathered through the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey.

Mann says a decade or so ago, male students were between 50 and 100 times more likely than girls to report binge drinking, which for the purposes of the survey is defined as having five or more drinks in a session at least once over the past month.

Now, binge drinking is as commonly reported by girls as it is by boys, Mann said.

"There's a convergence of drinking pattern between males and females, particularly for measures of heavier drinking," he said.

"That's quite a substantial change in the past 10 or 20 years."

Mann said the survey also asks students if they believe alcohol advertising is directed at them. A large proportion reply in the affirmative, he said.

Mann agreed with Flegel that alcohol bottles and ads should bear warning labels of the health risks of drinking.

"I'm amazed, I'm absolutely amazed that we do not have warning labels in this country," he said.

But he suggested more needs to be done, saying the federal government should bar alcohol advertising, just as cigarette ads have been outlawed.

"Let's face facts," Mann said.

"If we're concerned that young people are binge drinking, young people are experiencing alcohol-related problems, the most effective way that we know to control those kinds of problems are through regulation."

Flegel also said parents should model responsible alcohol consumption for their children.

Girls need to understand that drinking increases their risk of a number of health conditions, including breast and other cancers. Other female-specific risks of drinking include unwanted sex and pregnancy as well as being subjected to violence, the editorial said.

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