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Sobering idea

The federal government recently adopted a plan to include warnings on alcohol – so where are they?

Since the federal government made it mandatory for tobacco companies to include warnings on cigarette packages back in 1994, they have become progressively more vivid – for lack of a better word – with each passing year. These days smokers and non-smokers have to look at pictures of mouth diseases, cancerous lungs, pregnant women, and eviscerated hearts, as well as pregnant women, children, and a bent cigarette that’s supposed to represent impotence.

It’s a good thing they don’t allow smoking in restaurants any more, because most people would probably lose their lunch.

Most people get the idea that smoking can kill you, and they either can’t stop or don’t care. In polls, most smokers say they would like to stop, and the government figures these graphic pictures are an extra nudge in the right direction.

Most smokers also agree with the need for warnings on packages, although most would probably object to the latest graphic approach if you were to poll them.

But love them or hate them, the labels may be working. Overall the number of smokers is declining in Canada, from almost a third of the adult population 15 years ago to less than a quarter – although some believe that subsequent tax cuts on tobacco products, spurred by bootlegging, probably slowed the rate of that decline and increased how much lower income people were smoking.

Now, with that campaign well in hand, Canada is preparing, supposedly, for its next labelling campaign – mandatory warning labels on alcohol containers.

On April 23, the House of Commons passed a Private Members’ Bill tabled by Judy Wasylycia-Leis, an NDP MP from Winnepeg North Centre, with 217 votes for and just 11 against. Presumably the other 75 representatives in the 301 member House were out on fact-finding missions that day.

According to Wasylycia-Leis, "The government should consider the advisability of requiring that no person shall sell an alcoholic beverage in Canada unless the container in which the beverage is sold carries the following visible and clearly printed label:

"WARNING; Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause birth defects."

She was referring to the prevalence of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in Canada, which is present in approximately three out of every 1,000 births.

It wasn’t until 1973 that doctors introduced the term Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, although a causal link tying alcohol consumption to various birth defects had been suspected for centuries. According to Health Canada, the three major defects are: "Prenatal and/or postnatal growth restriction, characteristic facial features and central nervous system involvement (e.g. neurologic abnormalities, development delays, behavioural dysfunction and learning disabilities."