Glamourised ‘lifestyle’ promotions must be banned, says Alcohol Concern

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Alcohol advertising that promotes ‘lifestyle’ images of drinkers or scenes that glamourise drinking should be banned, according to a report from Alcohol Concern. The recommendation is one of several in Stick to the facts, which maintains that self-regulation is failing.

The charity wants to see a ban on alcohol sponsorship of all sports, music and cultural events as well as on cinema advertising for everything except 18-rated films. The report also calls for restrictions on advertising content, so that only images and messages related to ‘the characteristics of the product’ – such as origin, ingredients and means of production – are allowed. The measures are necessary to ‘protect children and young people from excessive exposure’ to alcohol advertising, the charity says. 

Regulation also needs be statutory and independent of the alcohol and advertising industries, with meaningful sanctions such as fines for non-compliance – based on ‘the size of marketing budget and estimated children’s exposure’. Regulating digital and online content presents a particular challenge however, the document states, with self-regulation failing to adequately protect the young. Advertising body ISBA responded by saying that self-regulation was effective and that the UK had ‘some of the toughest advertising rules in Europe’.

Alcohol Concern chief executive Eric Appleby, however, said that children and young people reported that they were better able to recognise alcohol brands than those of cakes or ice cream. ‘This has to be a wake-up call to the fact that the way we regulate alcohol advertising isn’t working. It’s time we reset the balance between commercial and public interest. That’s why we want advertisers to stick to the facts alone and for alcohol advertising to be banned at sporting, cultural or music events. 

A separate report from Alcohol Concern Cymru, On your doorstep, has also found that children and young people are increasingly using online shopping services to buy alcohol. In nearly half of test purchases organised by South Wales Police, alcohol was handed over to 15-year-olds without any requests for proof of age.

‘The process of purchasing alcohol online, for example via supermarket websites, is unique in that the sale is made in private and with relative anonymity, away from traditional retail premises,’ said Alcohol Concern policy and research officer Mark Leyshon. ‘Young people have told us that these sites offer less robust age verification practices and provide a quick and easy way to get hold of alcohol, especially for young­er teenagers who would likely have greater difficulty in buying alcohol in person from in-store at a supermarket or off-licence.’ 

Meanwhile, a report evaluating the impact of the Licensing (Scotland) Act has been issued by NHS Health Scotland. Among the aspects of the act that had been viewed most positively since its full implementation in 2009 were fewer irresponsible promotions, increased powers for licensing boards and training for board members and trade staff. Issues that ‘provoked a more mixed response’, however, included the impact on the off-trade sector and the collection of national and local data in a way that allowed ‘meaningful comparison’.

‘The Licensing Act has reduced irresponsible promotions in pubs and clubs, but cheap, high-strength alcohol is still being sold in off-sales, particularly supermarkets,’ said chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, Dr Evelyn Gillan.

‘Action that licensing boards take to reduce the availability of alcohol in order to reduce harm will be limited while alcohol continues to be sold at pocket money prices.’

Stick to the facts and On your doorstep at www.alcoholconcern.org.uk

An evaluation of the implementation of, and compliance with, the objectives of the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005: final report at www.healthscotland.com