When parents send their little ghosts, goblins and Pokémon out trick-or-treating on Monday, there will be a certain level of parental anxiety around the Halloween haul. Dangerous things come disguised in colourful wrappers, whether it's high levels of addictive, toxic sugar or, God forbid, more ominous items of the sharp and metal variety.
Parents have their own ways of dealing with candy and their kids, whether it's close supervision, candy quotas or picking and choosing what is consumed. Rarely, though, do parents keep their kids from Halloween altogether: children take such delight in their costumes and in collecting their bags of shiny, crinkly treats that in many ways Halloween is just good, clean fun.
"Fun" is one way wine companies try to market their products to us. At face value, there's nothing wrong with that. I like fun. You like fun. We have fun when we share a bottle of wine.
What's wrong is when marketing wine as "fun" moves it into the realm of sugary treats in colourful wrappers, into the minds of children and young people.
Marketing wine as candy is perverse business. More perverse, I believe, than straight-up selling it to minors because it is an attempt to do so while operating within the law. People — including little people — are given the false message that booze is like candy, making it appealing in ways above and beyond the taboo around alcohol and its effects on the brain and body.
"Advertising alcoholic beverages in general increases consumption by young people and decreases the average age of onset," says Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief public health officer.
Especially problematic, he says, is the growing trend targeting booze to young people, to young women in particular.
"Binge drinking rates in young women are increasing," says Dr. Strang, adding that this demographic is "physiologically more vulnerable" to alcohol intoxication and health complications such as liver cirrhosis, brain and heart damage and breast cancer.
Young women are also "more vulnerable to violence and sexual violence" as a result of consuming alcohol, he says.
According to the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins, underage women are exposed to more alcohol advertising and are three times more likely to drink as a result of owning alcohol-branded merchandise than adult women or men.
Wine coolers are classic examples of sweet, boozy treats that appeal to kids' palates. But it's not just sugar and brightly coloured packaging that draws young people to wine products. The name on a bottle can be equally as compelling.
Skinnygirl red or white wine, listed for an easy $15, is a clear example of marketing to young women. (Don't get me started on Skinnygirl Bare Naked, but that's vodka.)
Other names like Café Culture Choc Mousse Sparkling ($17), Xoxo ($11.50), Skinnygrape ($13), Cupcake Red Velvet ($17) and Girls' Night Out Chocolate Truffle ($11.50), Pineapple Mango ($9.50) and Strawberry Samba ($9.50) are more wines targeting young women's palates and pocketbooks.
The Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation is a Crown corporation, with the legislated mandate to "manage the safe and responsible distribution of beverage alcohol" within a provincial monopoly. In light of the increase of binge drinking among our young women, perhaps the NSLC's corporate social responsibility committee would consider adopting a policy of weeding out of its (our) shelves alcoholic beverages that appeal to this vulnerable — and valuable — demographic.
I'm not saying that sweet wines, pretty labels and creative wine names are bad, and there may be fine lines between marketing messages meant for adults and those meant for youngsters. But even within those grey areas, it's not difficult to pick out one from the other.
For example, local wines like Benjamin Bridge's Nova 7, Avondale Sky Winery's Tennycape and Luckett Vineyards' Phone Box White are all yummy, sweetish wines that I'm sure would go down just as easy as any Skinnygirl. But their pricing ($19-25) and benign (though classy) labeling are not trying to catch the attention of young folks. Likewise, Jost Vineyards' 4 Skins is about as naughty and suggestive as names come, but the wine style (dry-ish red), pricepoint ($20) and pun do not target young people looking for an easy party.
Protecting children is not about sheltering them from the realities of the world, such as alcohol and the spectrum of its effects. It does, however, call on us to teach kids to navigate dangers, especially when they come disguised. Growing up requires that some fun be taken seriously, and Girls' Night Out Chocolate Truffle sends the wrong message.