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Are alcohol ads aimed at young women also affecting girls?

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Persuasion Notebook offers quick hits on the business of persuasion from The Globe and Mail's marketing and advertising reporter, Susan Krashinsky . Read more on The Globe's marketing page and follow Susan on Twitter @Susinsky .

Are the companies who sell alcoholic drinks comparable to cigarette marketers? One doctor thinks so, and is taking the industry to task for the way it advertises to young girls.

In an upcoming editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, released online Monday, senior associate editor Dr. Ken Flegel makes the argument that like tobacco companies, the alcoholic beverage industry has recognized that a good way to increase profits is to target young female consumers – but that this has left adolescent girls, who also see the ads, particularly vulnerable.

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"The advertising industry knows very well how to secure new, lifelong clients: Most current smokers began smoking before age 18. The type of alcohol advertising being directed at young women suggests that an attractive body and a successful, trendy life will be the result of using any particular product," wrote Dr. Flegel, who is also an associate professor of medicine at McGill University and attending physician at the McGill University Health Centre. "…Exposure to advertising on television and in magazines, and use of alcohol have also been shown to have distinctive social and emotional effects on girls compared with boys."

To illustrate this, Dr. Flegel points to research showing that young girls – at ages as early as 13 – are drinking as much alcohol as young boys are (while suffering, in some cases, worse health effects as a result). He also cites further studies, which have found that adolescent girls are exposed to more alcohol advertising, and that this exposure can be associated with increased consumption.

"Adults, both male and female, should know what they are doing. But adolescents need guidance as to what alcohol is and what it does. They need to be taught that the purpose of advertising is to create a demand where there is no need," Dr. Flegel writes. "When advertising reaches a vulnerable group, such as adolescent girls, they need to understand what it means to be duped by an adult influence that does not have their interest at heart."

In addition to putting the onus on parents and doctors to inform young girls about their choices, Dr. Flegel argues that as with tobacco products, health warnings should be required on the packaging of alcoholic drinks. Warnings should also be included in advertising, he wrote.

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