‘Thanks alcohol’ anti-binge drinking ads hit Alberta


A young man vomits all over a woman’s dress, gives his friends the thumbs up and says ‘Thanks alcohol!”

That’s one of four new posters being distributed to bars and nightclubs across the province as the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) launches a new advertising campaign aimed at highlighting the dangers of binge-drinking among youth.

Using the tagline “Thanks Alcohol!”, the posters and radio advertisements portray youth attempting to smile while in distressing situations such as recovering from a fistfight or laying awkwardly in bed with a stranger.

The sarcastic advertisements were designed to capture the attention of drinkers between 18 and 24-years-old who may otherwise ignore having a conversation about binge-drinking, said AGLC President and CEO Bill Robinson.

“We felt that a little bit of satire in these ads would get their attention and that’s how it tested for young people. We wanted to make sure that it had an impact and people didn’t view it as just another ad where we were warning them against the horrible effects of alcohol,” he said.

“Nobody has seen this type of ad before. This is new.”

The campaign was developed by the AGLC in collaboration with Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services as a part of the province’s efforts to prevent and reduce harm from alcohol consumption.

There’s also a quiz at ThanksAlcohol.com that asks “what kind of drinker are you?” with answers like “The Waterworks” person who get’s too emotional, the “Big Spender” who maxes out their credit card at the bar and “The Easy Lover” who is “making out so hard that you don’t realize the cab is headed for the suburbs.”

Robinson said he expects the campaign to be controversial.

“We want to portray alcohol-related harm on all fronts… You’re going to have people who love it and you’re going to have people who are on the other side that don’t feel it’s relevant but just the conversation around whether it’s relevant or not drives the topic.”

But Dr. Louis Francescutti, a University of Alberta Injury professor and emergency physician, who says he sees people suffering the ill effects of excessive alcohol at the hospital nightly, isn’t so sure this campaign will be enough to curtail binge drinking in young adults.

“Binge drinking has been around as long as humans have been around, and nobody has been able to solve the problem before,” said Francescutti. “It’s unlikely that, unless we change our culture around drinking, we’re going to be able to change [binge drinking] as well.”

While he said the campaign overall seemed good, one major issue that seems to have been overlooked is that the brain of someone less than 24 years old is practically incapable of percieving long-term risk. That means this campaign’s message might miss their target audience entirely.

This is especially dangerous, says Francescutti, because as the brain is still developing through a person’s teens and into early adulthood, they are especially vulnerable to the damage caused by binge drinking — defined as five drinks per sitting for men and four for women.

“The biggest one is death,” said Francescutti, adding that binge drinkers who pass out can literally choke to death on their own vomit and those who get feisty can end up with serious injuries related to fighting.

Excessive alcohol exposure during these years of development has also been associated with cardiovascular problems, memory loss, trouble focusing and depression.

As well, Francescutti points out that these public service campaigns are up against sophisticated and well-funded alcohol advertisers who are keen on encouraging young drinkers to adopt their brand early and continue drinking through life.

Francescutti believes the only way to change this behavior is to change the culture of drinking.

“We’ve got to get rid of this notion that you have to have alcohol to have a good time. If you do, then there’s something missing in your life,” he said.

Last year, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. James Talbot, recommended the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) review provincial liquor mark-up policies in order to reduce excessive drinking, specifically amongst youth. Talbot cited a 2008 Alberta Youth Experience Survey that shows binge drinking among 12-to-19-year-olds has increased from 13 per cent in 2002 to 19 per cent in 2008.

The print and radio advertisements for the ‘Thanks alcohol!’ campaign will run until the end of November.

with files from Claire Theobald

 Teens react to campaign

A new campaign featuring drunken partiers awkwardly giving a thumbs up after an alcohol infused embarrassment is scoring high in laughs from local teens, but some wonder if it’s enough to get them to change binge drinking behaviours.

“Teenagers are so desensitized to this kind of stuff because they are so used to hearing it and seeing it,” said Sydney Costa, 16. “If they’re going to do it, they’re going to do it anyway no matter how many posters you put up in the walls.”

“I think it’s funny,” said Katie Matheson, 17, who said the images resonated with the alcohol-fuelled stories she’s heard from her peers.

“It isn’t always alcohol’s fault, it’s your choice to drink and the results, in reality, are your fault,” said 17-year-old Dylan Nixon, who read the message loud and clear.

But for Michelle Robb, 17, she says the issue isn’t just about awareness of the ill effects of over consumption, it’s about knowing your limit, and unless you’ve gone over your limit in the past, this campaign won’t do anything to help.

“I know people who can drink so much and feel fine, and I know people who have one shot and they’re done,” she said.

— Theobald



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