Have you ever wondered why some people are so terrified of labelling alcohol packages? The former President of the Canada Safety Council (CSC), Emile Therien, has ridden this hobby-horse before and I’m still wondering why. I have just read a rather specious argument against labelling on the globeandmail.com website. The CSC is concerned with safe driving techniques and sport helmets for children and issues media releases and newsletters with good advice about these issues. Does he now feel that he is an authority on health matters and mass communication efforts? Or, is he in the thrall of the beverage alcohol industry which has fought labelling of their products ever since this issues was raised?
Whatever his motivation, his arguments do not stand up to scrutiny. For example, no advocate of labelling booze packages has ever suggested that this step would be a “quick fix” or would, by itself, resolve the problems of immoderate drinking or totally prevent Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). As well, any research on labelling is meaningless if there have never been any effective label designs – certainly none exist in Canada.
Does Therien think that we should remove the warning labels from cigarettes because some people still remain addicted? Should we remove the warning labels from caustic cleansers and various poisonous liquids that are common to most households? Should we eliminate the information panels on food products in our stores because of our society’s high illiteracy rate? Oh no, let’s pretend that alcohol is some kind of health drink rather than a neurotoxin that can damage the developing brain cells of the growing fetus in the womb.
Perhaps the CSC and the beverage alcohol industry is unaware that FASD is the most common, most expensive, yet most preventable of all mental disorders in the industrialized world. But I doubt it. Currently, the cost of special education, welfare, social services, mental health counselling and the justice system can largely be related to those who struggle with FASD and roughly matches our national debt.
I agree that labelling is no quick fix. Labelling must be part of an overall education and intervention program that starts in our schools (including the medical faculties in our universities) with children prior to them becoming sexually active. Our country needs a concerted, overall strategy to inform everyone of the devastating effects of maternal drinking in pregnancy. FASworld and the thousands of families who deal with these issues on a daily basis are ready to welcome collaborative efforts from CSC and the any other responsible organization that will help us curtail this social scourge. I challenge the CSC to tell us about “the proven measures and personal interventions that are actually making a difference” and how labelling will divert resources of any kind.
This is not a minor issue. If you have ever wondered why there are so many homeless, school dropouts, high recidivism rates in our prisons, a clogged justice system, multi-generational alcoholism in some of our communities, just look into the cause: it’s more than likely FASD. Communication efforts must not start and stop with labels. We need effective information messages at all locations where alcohol is sold, in all broadcast commercials and print advertising for alcohol products and in mandatory parenting education programs. FASD is bigger than SARS, bigger than HIV/AIDS, bigger than any disease of the week. Let’s stop poisoning our unborn.