If you’ve seen an advert for an alcohol product that you’re worried about, you can complain to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
Alcohol marketing regulation is extremely complex. Under the current regulatory system, packaging is overseen by the Portman Group, advertising by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), and sponsorship of TV shows by Ofcom. The end result is that no single regulator sees the complete picture.
All advertising in the UK is overseen by the ASA. The ASA code outlines that marketing communications for alcoholic drinks should not be targeted at people under 18 and should not imply, condone or encourage immoderate, reckless behaviour or anti-social drinking.
Under current regulations, alcohol adverts must not:
- Encourage drinking to excess
- Imply that alcohol can enhance confidence or popularity
- Imply that drinking alcohol is a key component of the success of relationships or social event
- Encourage or refer to aggression or anti-social behaviour nor link alcohol with brave or daring behaviour
- Link alcohol with seduction, sex or social success
- Imply that alcohol can overcome boredom, loneliness or other problems
- Portray alcohol as capable of changing mood, physical condition or behaviour or as a source of nourishment
- Link alcohol to other drugs
- Show alcohol being served irresponsibly
- Link alcohol with activities or locations in which drinking would be unsafe or unwise (e.g. driving)
- Show drinking in a work enviroment
- Appeal to people under 18 years old
- Be directed at people under 18 through the selection of media or the context in which they appear. No medium should be used to advertise alcoholic drinks if more than 25% of its audience is under 18 years of age
- Show people drinking who appear to be under 25 years of age
- Make any health, fitness or weight-control claims
If a complaint is submitted and the associated advert is found to have breached one of the conditions, the ASA recommends that the advert is removed. Currently, the ASA has no power to force the removal of an advert or impose further penalties for those companies consistently being found to break advertising regulations.
In the UK today, alcohol advertising is as commonplace as advertising for coffee or cornflakes. Yet, in the words of the World Health Organization, alcohol is ‘no ordinary commodity’. Unlike coffee and cornflakes, alcohol can destroy lives so why do we allow alcohol producers to promote their products through so many different avenues? Advertising restrictions are accepted for other legal products that have health risks, such as cigarettes and many pharmaceuticals. A comparable approach is both necessary and appropriate for alcohol.
This situation is particularly alarming given the fact that alcohol adverts are often seen by and appeal to children. Research has found that 82% of young people recalled seeing at least one form of alcohol marketing in the last month. Though there are some rules on broadcast alcohol advertising, these are inadequate to properly protect young people. A survey carried out by Alcohol Focus Scotland found 10 and 11 year olds were more familiar with certain beer brands than leading brands of biscuits, crisps and ice cream.
The Alcohol Health Alliance believes that there should be greater restriction on the promotion and marketing of alcohol.
We’re calling on the UK Government to:
- Introduce comprehensive restrictions on alcohol advertising across multiple media, including restrictions on sponsorships and activities targeting young people.
- Protect children from exposure to alcohol advertising, including through effective age verification online, and a restriction on alcohol advertising in cinemas to films with an 18 certificate. Protections must cover digital media, including influencers, and should be regularly assessed to keep up with developments in technology.
- End alcohol sponsorship of professional sport.
- Ensure marketing regulations are entirely independent of the industry and supported with full legal powers.