Drinking is not all fun and games

It was a sun-filled autumn afternoon of varsity football. The stands were full while security kept their vigil, alert to any visible beer can glistening in the bright light of the day.

The promotional vehicles of a brewery were parked on the stadium’s cinder path and the beer tents had taken over areas near the goal lines. Out of the sky dropped two skydivers hanging from parachutes bearing the logo of another prominent brewery finally landing at centerfield.

It is difficult to avoid such promotions and while no self-respecting brewery executive would admit to encouraging university students or young adults anywhere to drink, breweries across North America spend fortunes marketing their alcoholic beverages to young adults.

Why such companies cater to such an age group is no mystery. Among those heaviest drinkers and sadly, those seeking treatment for alcohol abuse, no demographic is growing faster than university students aged 18-24.

Advertising aimed at young people is focused at more than appealing to existing drinkers. Advertising is aimed at creating new markets and new drinkers as well as stabilizing brand loyalties.

To me, it seems obvious that marketing practices represent a concerted effort to make consuming alcohol a way of life for university students of legal drinking age.

In advertising, drinking is presented as a compelling adult-like sophisticated norm.  Beer commercials reflect a party atmosphere, skiing in the Laurentians or on the beautiful lakes of Muskoka.  And the intent of such commercials is to make beer-drinking, pubbing and drunkenness a part of the university experience.

Concerned about the dangers of alcoholism or promoting a drinking lifestyle, some countries have imposed serious restrictions on the marketing practices of breweries.

In some, alcoholic beverages cannot be advertised until after 9 p.m.. Officials in Switzerland and Finland forbid any advertising of alcoholic beverages and the Finns even cleanse news pictures showing beer labels.

In Germany, breweries were ordered to stop advertising beer as something good for people’s looks and health.

In Canada and the United States, there are worries regarding advertising beer on television as the ads tend to glamorize alcohol and may contribute to the many problems arising from drinking.

The problem of alcoholism has so worried university administrators that many universities have begun recovery programs for students with heavy drinking, such as having five or more drinks on five or more occasions in the past month.

The Wall Street Journal recently wrote about the University of Michigan and Penn State University, which have launched recovery programs for alcoholic students and they expect to eventually serve hundreds of students.

“For the young person trying to stay sober, university can be a very, very difficult place,” said Dr. Joseph Lee, a psychiatrist at a Minnesota treatment center, in the article.

And none of us need to be reminded that on many campuses, alcohol abuse and binge drinking are major problems.

Some university officials suggest that “booze” (and other substance use) play a significant role in the 20 per cent drop out rate among first year university students.

Combined with the efforts made by Bacchus on some university campuses, we also need the collective concern shown by responsible corporate executives within the alcoholic beverage industry.

Too, we need honest figures about
incipient alcoholism on our campuses
as well as figures about alcohol
consumption by young adults

Such an openness will mean that we might be able to help our youth develop mature attitudes toward a potentially dangerous commodity.