A nursing and social work professor who researches underage drinking, is calling for restrictions on alcoholic beverage advertisements in a bid to reduce underage drinking and binge drinking by teens and young adults.
Esme Fuller-Thomson, of the University of Toronto, estimates by the time Canadians turn 18, they've seen 100,000 positive messages about alcohol and millions of product placements in movies.
"In the advertisements you don't see people talking about, you know, the glories of cirrhosis of the liver, or the guy who's vomiting on his girlfriend — some of the real outcomes of heavy drinking," Fuller-Thomson told CBC's Information Morning Fredericton.
"It's really romanticized and young people are pretty vulnerable to think that this is a cool and mature thing to do."
Fuller-Thomson's comments come on the heels of the drinking game death of 18-year-old Brady Grattan, of Fredericton, in Grande Prairie, Alta., and reports of spiked drinks and alcohol poisoning at the University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University.
Meanwhile, Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., has taken steps to tone down upcoming St. Patrick's Day festivities to try to avoid problems associated with the annual rowdy celebrations. Last year, police laid 269 charges during festivities near the university.
Smoking ad restrictions a success
Fuller-Thomson says it's no wonder young people are measuring the fun in their lives by the amount of booze they can down in one night. They're inundated with positive messaging and what appears to be targeted marketing through so-called alcopop products, such as flavoured vodka coolers, she said.
She says restrictions on smoking ads have proven very effective in reducing youth smoking rates.
Now she would like to see the alcohol industry take some responsibility for the "very significant toll" it's causing.
Canada spends about $14 billion a year "sopping up the messes," caused by excessive drinking and alcoholism, including policing and health care costs, said Fuller-Thomson.
Those who start drinking before the age of 15 are up to four times more likely to become addicted, she said.
'We need to be harder on big alcohol.' - Esme Fuller-Thomson, researcher and professor
Fatty liver disease is affecting younger patients and alcohol is also associated with a "a fairly high percentage" of some cancers, such as bowel.
"We need to be harder on big alcohol."
Fuller-Thomson is also concerned about parents who condone underage drinking or even buy alcohol for their teenaged children.
She says parents who think their teens are going to drink anyway because all teens do are mistaken. "The proportion of abstainers has gone up. Among high school students, there's 40 per cent who've never had a drink in the past year," she said.
On the other hand, among those who do drink, about two-thirds tend to drink "excessively and out of control," said Fuller-Thomson. "It's pretty worrisome. That's when … you start to get sexual violence, fights, accidents and injuries."
If parents choose to allow their underage children to drink in their home, Fuller-Thomson says they need to be honest with other parents, who may not want to let their children visit and be exposed to such behaviour.