Naming the Oval: an opportunity to rethink our relationships with alcohol

Friday, November 25, 2011 - 4:11pm

The current debate over the naming of the Oval leaves our public with some interesting questions.

There is no question the Oval will be an important structure in our community, and an important boost to physical activity and health promotion. But given our historic and problematic relationships with alcohol in Nova Scotia, at what point do we consider changing our relationship with the alcohol industry?

When does a company such as Molson Coors’ need to advertise win out over a scientific risk of advertising certain products? And when does that win out over the physical activity benefits of a facility like the Oval?

How do we weigh a $400,000 contribution to a health-promoting facility against more than $400 million in costs each year in Nova Scotia from alcohol-related harm?

As chief public health officer Dr. Robert Strang, has said, if we look at the naming of the Oval in isolation, it likely is not a big deal. If we look at it as a first and important step in doing things differently for our children, then it is a big deal.

Our youth already start drinking, on average, at age 12 - a historic low for Nova Scotia.

And yet we know that alcohol advertising - the promotion of beer in a place where young people are present, can do damage. Long-term studies have found that youth exposed to more alcohol advertising drink more than youth exposed to fewer ads. The more alcohol young people drink, the more likely they are to do poorly in school, have social problems, get injured, have unplanned and unprotected sex, get into a car with a drinking driver, and so on.

Nova Scotia’s Alcohol Strategy, Canada’s Alcohol Strategy, the U.S. Surgeon General, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the U.S. Institute of Medicine, and the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth all recommend limiting youth exposure to alcohol advertising. Indeed, the very tangible impacts of alcohol in our communities have been highlighted provincially in the past few months, most recently with the release this month of the report of the Municipal Alcohol Project, a project spearheaded by the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities.

Have we said to Molson Coors, "Thank you for your interest in our community, but could you do it without the advertising?" They might say yes!

And what a fundamental shift even that could herald in our relationship with alcohol.

In the meantime, if we can't do that, we can do something else. We can look to the future and consider the creation of Municipal Alcohol Policy so that Council wouldn't have to spend endless hours debating issues like this in the future. Lots of municipalities have done this before us, and as a result there is lots of good evidence-based guidance that we can take advantage of.

Sometimes a complex problem doesn't need a complex solution. It just needs a starting point for further discussion. Thank you, HRM Council, for at least opening our eyes to what is really in a name. The advertising that comes with it and its potential impacts are things we all need to be more thoughtful about.

Dr. Gaynor Watson-Creed,

Medical Officer of Health,

Capital Health

Dr. J. Richard Gould,

Medical Officer of Health,

Capital Health

Dr. Ron Fraser

Clinical Academic Leader

Addiction Prevention and Treatment Services

Capital Health

Dr. John Ross

Emergency Physician

Director of Simulation, Faculty of Medicine Dalhousie University

Provincial Advisor - Emergency Patient Care - DHW

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