Tobacco Advertising Is Illegal but Alcohol Is Not

Last Updated: 29 Jan 2021
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Advertisements are a vital part of any company’s marketing strategy, and are used to inform or persuade an audience about a certain product or service. In fact, North American companies are among the world’s highest advertisers (Boone et al. , 2010, 502). Today, an average consumer is exposed to hundreds of advertisements every day.

It is when these companies attempt to promote a dangerous product that restrictions must be, and have been put in place. For several years, Canada’s regulations on tobacco advertisements have become stricter, while alcohol advertisements are still permitted across multiple mediums. This leads one to question the difference between the two substances, and if this notion is in fact hypocritical. The stakeholders identified in this paper are the viewers and listeners of the advertisements, specifically the youth audience.

The principles involved with alcohol promotion are examined with a lens that incorporates the views of Horkheimer and Adorno’s perspective on advertising. Along with a brief history of tobacco advertising regulations, this paper will discuss the ethical issues involved in alcohol advertising, and evidence to support that alcoholic products are no less of a danger than tobacco, and should have the same advertising restrictions. There is also evidence to suggest that the majority of Canadians are in favour of tighter restrictions on alcohol advertising.

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The current hypocritical state of allowing alcohol to be advertised, but removing all tobacco related marketing is further discussed in detail. Literature Review Not only is advertising illegal for tobacco companies, retailers are now obligated to remove these products from sight. Cigarette companies are also no longer permitted to label their product as light or mild on the package (Pollay, 2004, 80). The first Canadian legislation successfully passed in favour of advertising regulations was the Tobacco Act of 1997 (Pollay, 2004, 80).

Health Canada created provisions in this act such as, tobacco products must not be promoted, and all manufacturers must share information about the product’s emissions and health hazards arising from use of the product on the packaging (Health Canada, 2011). The intent of this act was to protect young people and others from being encouraged to try tobacco related products without being informed of the dangers to their health (Polley, 2004, 81). The belief was that tobacco ads were aimed at new smokers, and that companies were trying to attract young people towards their brand.

This idea is plausible because in order to maintain a strong business over a long period of time, new users must be targeted. Further, there is evidence supporting the fact that current smokers are not likely to be converted to another brand, making youth targeted advertisements more likely (Polley, 2004, 83). There was pressure to strengthen the advertising restrictions after countless health risks and deaths were attributed to smoking. “Smoking has been estimated to result in roughly 45,000 deaths annually and is a major cause of respiratory disease, cancer and circulatory disease” (Sen, 2009, 189).

A study conducted by the American Journal of Public Health looked at 481 randomly selected tobacco retailers after the product display ban to understand the changes that resulted in tobacco promotion (Cohen et al. , 2011, 1879). Their study revealed that this ban successfully limited the exposure of tobacco products, and demonstrated the importance of a complete ban on retail tobacco displays (Cohen et al. , 2011, 1880). Clearly, limiting advertising exposure to hazardous products such as cigarettes truly limits consumer exposure, and thus promotes the idea of a healthy public.

Since these ad regulations have proved to be a success, it would likely have a very similar effect when applied to alcohol. Ethics is an essential consideration in the world of advertising. Marketers should make responsible decisions, and not just focus on generating profits, because it is legal. “Ads should address audiences not just as consumers who care about material interests but as citizens who care about social virtues and the public good” (Hove, 2009, 35). The idea of advertising alcoholic beverages is unethical.

While there are mild restrictions in Canada regarding alcohol promotions, there is a demand for more. Some provinces run ads that promote responsible drinking, or the dangers of drinking and driving in an attempt to shed light on alcohol abuse (Boone, 2010, 525). However, these attempts do not cancel out the multitude of beer and liquor advertisements in today’s media. Some alcohol advertisements include the ideology that drinking a certain brand of beer will influence their social class, or improve their quality of life in some way. This is extremely controversial.

An article from the South African Journal of Psychology notes, “there are no laws against [alcohol] advertisements; however, responsible corporate and professional action, would prevent the use of these advertisements from a social and moral standpoint” (Dubihela & Dubihela, 2011, 209). Clearly, an ethical dilemma is present. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is one organization that has viewed alcohol advertisements critically. Since 1968 they have required broadcasters to report the number of alcohol related messages broadcasted annually (CRTC, 2011).

The messages also must adhere to their Code for Broadcast of Alcoholic Beverages (CRTC, 2011). This code includes provisions to ensure promotions for alcoholic beverages do not encourage non-drinkers or young people to drink or purchase alcohol, imply a certain brand is superior because of a higher alcohol percentage, and that consumption of alcohol enhances enjoyment of an activity (CRTC 2011). These regulations are far more lenient compared to the restrictions on tobacco advertising.

Advertising Standards Canada has now gained responsibility to review advertisements concerning alcohol to ensure they are in accordance with the CRTC’s code (Darling, 1996). Moreover, alcohol is just as dangerous to society as tobacco. Statistics Canada shows that alcohol use by drivers was a factor in nearly 30% of motor vehicle related deaths from 2003-2005 (Statistics Canada, 2011). Also, deaths from other alcohol related disorders such as cirrhosis of the liver accounted for over 1400 deaths in 2003 (Statistics Canada, 2009).

The most relevant stakeholders in this issue, young people, are severely affected by alcohol use in Canada. In 2011, 13. 2% of Canadian youth ages 12 to 19 fell under the heavy drinker category, that is, consuming 5 or more drinks on one occasion at least once a month (Statistics Canada, 2011). Similarly, “the rate of persons accused of impaired driving offences was highest among young adults between the ages of 19 and 24” (Statistics Canada, 2011). Additionally, 28. 8% of Canadian students admitted to being driven by someone who was legally impaired (Statistics Canada, 2011).

Many Canadians support the public opinion that seeks to enforce stricter regulations when it comes to alcohol products. A study from the Drug and Alcohol Review Journal reports that 50. 1% of Canadians agree with prohibiting alcohol advertising (Macdonald et al. , 2011, 653). Similarly, 47. 4% thought the current legal drinking age of nineteen should be increased, and 40. 1% believed taxes on alcoholic beverages should be raised (Macdonald et al. , 2011, 653). These kinds of changes would make alcohol less available or attractive to young adults.

The CRTC’s report that outlines the framework for their advertising regulations states, “parties argued that excessive alcohol consumption is as dangerous as smoking and, therefore, should be treated in the same way: the consumer should be warned of the dangers associated with abusive consumption” (Darling, 1996). Clearly, encouraging the sale of any product that can cause this kind of harm is morally irresponsible. Evidently, many Canadians believe alcohol is a dangerous substance that should not be easily accessible to young people. Establish an Interpretive Context

This research is used to establish whether or not a bias exists. The death and disease rate caused by both alcohol and tobacco is examined to prove that hypocrisy is present. Harmful effects caused by the use of alcohol and tobacco is compared to uncover why this imbalance of advertising restriction is unjust. This is not to say that tobacco products should be reintroduced, but that both substances should be eliminated from media advertising altogether. Furthermore, the views of actual Canadians are considered because this fosters a public sphere and forms a widespread opinion on the issue.

Also taken into account is the amount of time spent with media by Canadians and specifically young people. Statistics that outline hours spent watching television and surfing the web will be considered. The best outcome for this situation is to restrict alcohol advertisements based on the same grounds outlined in the Tobacco Act. Discussion After reviewing the available data, it is clear an unjust bias exists. The position of this discussion remains that alcohol should be eliminated from advertising for the same reasons tobacco is.

Tobacco has been restricted from advertising based on major health concerns, and in an attempt to deter youth from smoking. These same properties are present, and even heightened, with alcohol. “Some parties, including government representatives, stated that anyone involved with the sale of alcoholic beverages should have the opportunity to advertise their products” (Darling, 1996). Since evidence categorizes both alcohol and tobacco as dangerous substances, both should be treated the same way with regards to advertising.

Alcohol has proven to be even more dangerous than tobacco in some cases. The immediate effects are particularly alarming. Consumption of alcohol can alter one’s state of mind, causing negative health effects, accidents and addiction in some cases. The Canadian Public Health Association reports, “drinking too much alcohol in a short period of time can lead to poor judgment, impulsive behaviour and alcohol poisoning” (CPHA, 2008). Alcohol poisoning can contribute to long-term health problems and even death. Also of concern are the permanent consequences of long term drinking.

Serious conditions such as, brain damage, certain cancers, cirrhosis of the liver, and sexual problems are attributed to alcohol abuse (CPHA, 2008). In addition to life threatening illnesses, withdrawal symptoms can also occur when heavy drinkers suddenly stop consuming alcohol. These symptoms include but are not limited to insomnia, sweating, tremors, and convulsions (CPHA, 2008). Clearly the additive properties of alcohol are similar to tobacco, and should therefore be handled the same way in advertisement laws. Problems with mental health can also be found with alcohol abuse.

According to the Canadian Community Health Survey, “fifteen percent of people who were alcohol-dependent have experienced major depressive episodes” (Tjekpema, 2004). Also, women who consume alcohol while pregnant are of grave concern. Regular alcohol intake during pregnancy can lead to miscarriages, low birth weight, and genital malformations in boys (Damgaard et al. , 2007, 272). “Children born to women who consume alcohol during pregnancy may exhibit a range of abnormalities and developmental deficits that together are termed fetal alcohol spectrum disorders” (Kobor & Weinberg, 2011, 29).

These preventable defects are another reason why alcohol should be considered as dangerous as tobacco. Overall, the negative statistics for alcohol are no less alarming than they are for tobacco. In 2011, 10. 1% of 15 to 17 year olds considered themselves smokers (Statistics Canada 2011). This is substantially lower than the 13. 2% of Canadian youth who fall under the category of heavy drinkers, not to mention the 30% of motor vehicle accidents that are alcohol related. These contrasting statistics speak for themselves, and prove the hypocritical nature of only banning tobacco advertising.

Alcohol brands use effective marketing strategies that specifically reach a youth audience, the main stakeholder in this issue. Since the ‘young market’ is attractive to advertisers, their ads frequently catch the eye of people aged 15 to 34 (Novak, 2004). Celebrity endorsements are one way marketers attempt to sell their product to young people. Dan Aykroyd, Zak Galifianakis, and Will Ferrell are just a few celebrities who have endorsed popular alcohol brands (Novak, 2004).

These people are relevant to Canadian youth, and they may be inclined to purchase the same brand of alcohol as one of their favourite celebrities. Moreover, 20. 1% of males and females ages 18 to 22 claimed to watch 15 or more hours of television per week (Statistics Canada, 2007). This is a large portion of young people who are subject to the dozens of alcohol advertisements broadcast each day. Alcohol advertisements are not limited to radio and television broadcasting. Many brands are turning to the Internet and social media to promote their products. This is problematic.

According to a 2009 survey by Statistics Canada, 82. 9% of Canadians ages 34 and younger claimed to use the Internet at lease once a day, and 86% of these users went online for social media purposes (Statistics Canada, 2009). The government should implement restrictions on encouraging the sale of alcohol to a youth audience. They act as a legitimate spokesperson because they look out for citizen’s best interests. The reasoning behind banning tobacco advertising stemmed from the health hazards and dangers associated with smoking, and the same should be true for alcohol.

Some parties argue that there is no scientific evidence linking advertising to overconsumption or underage drinking. If this is true, then the same can be said for tobacco products. However, polls taken in 2011 show that tobacco use fell rapidly amongst teenagers 15 to 19 years of age, shortly after the ban was placed (Goldfarb, 2011, 209). If these restrictions were applied to alcohol products, similar results could be expected. This issue fits into the realm of communication theory. As Horkheimer and Adorno proclaim, the direction of society, “is incarnate in the subjective purposes of company directors.

Production is geared primarily towards profit, not towards the satisfaction of human need or use value” (Johnston, lecture, 2012). Advertising executives constantly make decisions based purely on profit instead of taking culture into consideration. Their ads are intended to increase sales and attract new customers of any age. This is problematic on a youth audience. These theorists proclaim that the audience has no choice in the matter (Johnston, lecture, 2012). “If all culture is enmeshed in the capitalist marketplace then all cultural products espouse the ruling ideology” (Johnston, lecture, 2012).

This ideology is business. The government needs to intervene in this cycle so that ethics and moral responsibility are taken into consideration, just as they were with the tobacco advertisement ban. Conclusion If tobacco advertising was banned because it was considered wrong to encourage a habit that causes such detrimental effects, should not the same be true for alcohol? This bias is hypocritical because the government deemed it necessary to intervene when it came to tobacco advertising, and alcohol should not be overlooked.

Smoking and alcohol consumption take away people’s lives at the height of their productivity (Jiloha, 2012, 65). By keeping these activities out of the media, youth can be deterred from engaging in them. In fact, advertising has profound consequences. Its persuasiveness and lack of information give audiences a false sense of what the product at hand really is (Hove, 2009, 36). Advertising experts should focus their attention on directing youth audiences against dangerous habits such as smoking and drinking, instead of encouraging them through advertising.

While there is no scientific link connecting advertising to over consumption of alcohol, the decrease in young smokers as previously mentioned after the tobacco retail display ban gives reason to assume the same could be true for alcohol. If tighter restrictions are put in place to limit promotion of these products, it could help discourage Canadians from underage drinking, or over consumption. The current state of applying restrictions only to the tobacco industry is hypocritical when compared to the equally dangerous properties of alcohol.

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