Thirty-some years ago, five like-minded people got together to bring a big idea to life: Communicate the “how to” of alcohol consumption to those who choose to drink.
Those founding members were Colette Gilet, promotion agent, Claude Marier, vice president of the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ), Pierre Desmarais, director of a major winery, Pierre Touchette, senior executive at a well-known distillery and Ghislain K. Laflamme, CEO of the Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux du Québec.
They had agreed not to follow in the footsteps of the cigarette companies that denied the dangers of tobacco, suppressed scientific studies and deceived consumers. On the contrary, they resolved to assume their social responsibilities and address the problems that alcohol abuse was causing in Quebec society. And thus Éduc’alcool was born.
Éduc’alcool began by distributing funds to organizations equipped to repair the damage caused by abuse and reduce the harm of excessive drinking.
An important turning point came when the organization opted to focus on prevention. To this end, it chose education programs as a means to raise awareness and intervene before problems arise.
Next, Éduc’alcool revived a slogan formerly used by the SAQ: Moderation is always in good taste. It purchased the rights for a symbolic dollar. Considering the expression’s widespread recognition, this was probably one of the best deals ever made in Quebec.
Éduc’alcool also developed a market-based strategy: Instead of imposing its message on consumers, it chose to ask what they wanted to know about alcohol.
A recognized social player
To expand the expertise on its board of directors, Éduc’alcool enlisted members from various sectors of society having no connection to the alcohol industry or government.
Over time, media outlets, governments and public figures began seeking Éduc’alcool’s opinion. Whenever the question of alcohol arose, the organization was asked to contribute to the social debate.
As its interventions and representations on alcohol policies multiplied, Éduc’alcool became a reference and a major player in the public arena, first in Quebec and across Canada, then abroad.
On October 1, 2020, Éduc’alcool was honoured with the Lieutenant-Governor’s Medal for Exceptional Merit. This tribute alone is a testament to the organization’s contribution to Quebecers’ education and awareness about the responsible consumption of alcohol.
An ethic that goes beyond the letter of the law
Once Éduc’alcool identified serious shortcomings in the country’s laws and regulations, it urged its industry members to adopt a code of ethics more restrictive than the legislation. All of them concurred, including restaurant and bar owners. This initiative gave rise to the Ethics Council of the Alcoholic Beverage Industry in Quebec, which, since 2006, has profoundly altered the industry’s communication, promotion and marketing practices.
Creating moderation tools
Initially, Éduc’alcool promoted moderation by publicizing low-risk drinking levels. Then, going beyond the “what” and addressing the “how,” it began to create and distribute moderation tools.
Scientific rigour and snapshots of the situation in Quebec
In recent years, the presence, rigour and expertise of the Scientific Advisory Council have enriched the thinking about discoveries and trends in the area of alcohol consumption. The Council members’ contributions have been particularly valuable in producing the Alcohol and Health series of scientific publications.
Éduc’alcool has regularly surveyed Quebecers on their drinking habits in each region, but also in special situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to keeping people up to date on their reality, the surveys enable the organization to concentrate its efforts on crucial current issues.
Building youth awareness and understanding
For more than 25 years, Éduc’alcool has worked to raise awareness among young people by means of student campaigns in CEGEPs and universities. These campaigns are now held in more than 70 participating institutions.
The regularly updated You Be the Judge program provides tools for teachers from grade 5 through high school to use in talking about alcohol with pre-teens and teens. This educational program teaches them, among other things, how to resist peer pressure, sharpen their critical thinking and develop a healthy relationship with alcohol in later life.
At present and going forward
Today, Éduc’alcool takes a qualitative approach that encourages Quebecers to consider not only the general recommendations but also, and especially, their personal situation and alcohol consumption habits. People now have unprecedented access to a wealth of information, programs and tools to help them make informed choices and remember that moderation is always in good taste.