The charity Alcohol Focus Scotland and a group of international experts are calling for governments to introduce statutory restrictions on how alcohol is marketed in a bid to improve health.
In a new report, the experts highlight that the high visibility of alcohol marketing means we are constantly bombarded with positive messages about how drinking can enhance our lives. Marketing has become increasingly sophisticated and more difficult to avoid as alcohol companies invest millions of pounds in seeking to build long-term relationships between us and their brands.
Yet in the UK a quarter of us are drinking at levels place our health at increased risk, and in 2020 we saw deaths from alcohol jump to the highest level since 2001. Research shows that exposure to alcohol marketing causes alcohol consumption.
The group’s recommendations include:
- Introducing comprehensive statutory restrictions on all alcohol marketing activities.
- Ensuring such restrictions explicitly include all forms of brand marketing. including identifiable fonts, straplines or colours (not just brand names).
- Mandating health information on all alcohol packaging.
- Making sure that alcohol displays and promotions in shops are only visible to those planning to browse or purchase alcohol.
- Restricting price promotions.
- International action to develop an approach to regulating digital alcohol marketing.
Introducing a comprehensive ban on marketing – including TV, digital and outdoor advertising, and sports and event sponsorship – would help reduce people’s exposure to alcohol marketing; a cause of alcohol consumption. It would address the social norms that alcohol companies build and reinforce through their marketing activities: that regular drinking is normal and desirable. These social norms affect us all and are among the strongest drivers of behaviour, contributing to the high levels of consumption and harm in the UK.
But some groups are more affected; in particular, children and young people, and people with or at risk of an alcohol problem.
New research examining the evidence of the impact on people with an alcohol problem commissioned to inform the report, reveals how this group have an increased susceptibility to alcohol marketing. Adverts foster positive alcohol-related emotions and thoughts which can trigger cravings.
People in recovery from alcohol problems also shared their experiences of receiving a constant barrage of adverts for alcohol and how this threatens their recovery.
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said: “Alcohol is linked to 80 deaths a day in the UK and yet we are constantly bombarded with alcohol advertising online, on television and in the real world which glamourises drinking.
“If the Government is serious about preventing deaths and reducing alcohol harm, it must urgently consider the recommendations of this important report and introduce a comprehensive ban on alcohol marketing.”
Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “The current self-regulatory approach to alcohol marketing is failing to protect people and has led to our communities being wallpapered with promotions for a product that harms our health. We only need to think of how easily we recognise brands simply from a distinctive colour or font to realise how powerful marketing is.
“Children and young people tell us they see alcohol everywhere, all the time and they worry that adverts make alcohol seem cool and exciting. People in recovery talk of how marketing jeopardises their recovery. But all of us are affected and this has to change.
She added, “People don’t just have a need to be protected from alcohol marketing they have a right to be protected. A number of other countries have already imposed bans on alcohol marketing, if we want to create a more positive culture where everyone can realise their right to health, the UK and Scottish governments must act to restrict alcohol marketing.”