LCBO ad urging pregnant women to avoid alcohol sparks complaint

TORONTO — A liquor retailer’s campaign to discourage pregnant women from consuming alcohol has been described by one Toronto woman as “offensive and wrong on so many levels.”

Laura Jamer saw an ad by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) that shows a naked pregnant woman holding a sign with the word “love” in red and the message “Love your body, love your baby. Don’t drink while pregnant” below the image.

LCBO stores displayed the campaign from Aug. 25 to Sept. 12 in partnership with FASworld Canada, an organization focused on education about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

After seeing more of the ads — including a four-foot-tall poster — Jamer posted her thoughts on her Facebook page Monday and sent a complaint to the LCBO.

“I thought the message behind it was very condescending and that it implied if you have a glass of wine, it meant you didn’t love your body, and it meant you didn’t love your baby, which is really what I take issue with,” she told Global News. “It’s the way that this is put forward.”

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Jamer, a mother of a 3-year-old and a 9-month-old, has done her homework.

“There’s no research to show that light drinking is bad, yet there’s research to show that it’s good, and still there’s this campaign out there to make mothers feel guilty,” she said.

“Not only that, it encourages the general public to shame and judge mothers who are having a glass of wine, like that Toronto waiter recently who refused to serve someone who was pregnant. That made me so angry…to blame and guilt women who just want to enjoy a glass of wine and who have done their research and know there’s no ill effect to doing that.”

Jamer is referring to research from April that suggested expectant moms can drink small amounts of alcohol without putting their babies at risk — about two units a week. The study suggested there was no difference between kids whose moms drank or abstained from alcohol during pregnancy, and went on to say that boys born to “light drinkers” had slightly fewer behavioural problems and higher reading skills, Time reported.

Though two flaws of that study were that it was based on recall and that there’s a taboo associated with drinking while pregnant that could affect what was reported, Canadian experts say it’s women drinking in “true excess” who are putting their babies at risk of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

Jamer said she posted her critique to Facebook to see how others felt about the ads, and to encourage people who shared her views to send in a similar complaint, in hopes of removing the ads. She said the response she received from the LCBO was what she expected:

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The LCBO responds to Laura Jamer’s complaint about an ad about avoiding drinking while pregnant. Laura Jamer / LCBO response

“I would ideally like the poster to be changed,” said Jamer. “I think what they had in place before was sufficient — which they still have in place — those little pictures of a woman touching her belly, saying: Drinking while pregnant ‘may’ harm your baby. And the operative word there being ‘may.’

“And those I think did the job…they sent the right message; they didn’t guilt people into never touching a glass of wine for nine months.”

Jamer said the reaction to her post was largely positive: Some friends wanted clarification on her position, and others shared her concern.

“I have a pregnant friend who was shopping for a gift for my husband and she said she actually felt really guilty doing that,” she said. “She wondered if other people thought maybe she was an alcoholic, or that she was doing harm to her baby. So that is the consequence of this type of message.”

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Jamer said she suspects expectant moms prone to excessive drinking face other challenges that would override the LCBO’s campaign.

“This marketing campaign is probably not going to target people with the propensity to drink heavily while they’re pregnant,” she said. “Those people have bigger issues going on in their lives where a light guilt-ridden campaign is not going to make a difference to their drinking.”

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