MPs and leading health experts are calling for tighter alcohol marketing restrictions to reduce alcohol harm and protect vulnerable adults and children.
The latest report from the Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) has found that the “constant bombardment” of alcohol marketing at celebrations such as Christmas and sports events makes it difficult for those in active addiction and recovery to fully participate in everyday life.
The AHA – which represents more than 60 non-governmental organisations – is now calling for the Government to take urgent action to protect both those in recovery and children from overexposure to alcohol marketing.
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said: “The constant bombardment of alcohol marketing is a significant contributor to alcohol harm in the UK. The glamourisation of a harmful product creates a culture where alcohol is seen as an essential part of everyday life. With deaths linked to alcohol at record highs, we are in desperate need of a new approach.
“The Health and Care Bill plans to introduce advertising restrictions such as a 9pm watershed for ‘less healthy food or drink’ advertising on TV and a prohibition of paid-for ‘less healthy food or drink’ advertising online, at the end of 2022. Alarmingly, alcohol is not currently included in these plans and is bizarrely not considered a less healthy drink. This needs to change. The Government must now introduce comprehensive marketing restrictions in both real world and digital spaces to ensure that vulnerable adults and children are protected from alcohol advertising and its harm.”
The report, titled No escape: How alcohol marketing preys on children and vulnerable people, highlights how alcohol marketing has been identified as problematic for vulnerable groups, such as those in recovery. Marketing can cue the desire for alcohol and can be a ‘trigger’ for relapse.
Susan Laurie, who has been in recovery for seven years, said: “Christmas is the season when the adverts for alcohol are relentless. They convince us that alcohol is an essential part of the festivities. Supermarkets also push discounted alcohol and will have special offers that are designed to make us buy more and more drink. Trying to maintain sobriety is difficult at the best of times, but at Christmas alcohol is absolutely everywhere, and this can have devastating consequences – as it did for me.”
Melissa Rice, author of Sobering: Lessons Learnt the Hard Way on Drinking, Thinking and Quitting and now in her fifth year of recovery, added: “In early recovery it dawned on me quickly that I had to get used to alcohol being everywhere and it was a major struggle. If I tried to avoid alcohol, I would never leave the house or turn on a TV.
“There really is no escape from alcohol imagery. Waiting for the tube at 8am, I look at a 6-foot bottle of whisky. The side of a bus tell me there is an app that can get me ‘booze in under 15 minutes’. Some of my favourite TV shows are sponsored by alcohol. I receive emails from supermarkets telling me how they have slashed their prices of spirits. When I go to a supermarket, alcohol offers are dotted around the whole shop. I have no way to opt out of any of this. I am expected to accept this.”
The report also found that children are regularly exposed to alcohol marketing and demonstrate high levels of brand awareness. A 2019 survey of more than 2,500 young people funded by Cancer Research UK found that four in five (82%) 11-17-year-olds had seen alcohol marketing in the past month. In addition, 42% of this age group have seen alcohol adverts on social media platforms, such as YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram.
Research has consistently shown that alcohol marketing is causally linked to alcohol use among young people, including starting to drink at an earlier age or engaging in riskier consumption.
Malcolm Clark, Cancer Prevention Policy Manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “The findings are both clear and concerning: alcohol marketing reaches children, builds brand awareness, and influences their perception of alcohol. It’s time for governments across the UK to introduce and enforce restrictions on pervasive alcohol advertising across multiple media platforms, including sponsorships and those targeting young people.
“We also have the backdrop of the pandemic, when high-risk drinking was up by 64% in people from lower socioeconomic groups. To close the inequality gap, significant new public health funding, including for alcohol treatment services, is urgently needed.”
Christian Wakeford, Chair of the APPG on Alcohol Harm, said: “The current self-regulatory alcohol marketing system is failing to protect our children and vulnerable adults from exposure to alcohol advertising. Restrictions for tobacco advertising have been in place for many years, and stricter requirements have been proposed for junk food advertising. Like alcohol, these products can cause harm to our health. Alcohol should be no exception. We need to ensure alcohol marketing regulations are entirely independent of the industry and are effective to protect the most vulnerable in our society.”
Alex Norris, Shadow Public Health Minister, said: “Alcohol continues to hurt too many individuals, families and communities across our country. This report is another reminder that we need to do more to stop and prevent this harm. With deaths linked to alcohol now at record highs, the Government must urgently introduce a series of preventative measures to decrease harmful drinking. This should include comprehensive controls on alcohol marketing, as recommended by both this report and the World Health Organization.”
Dan Carden, Vice Chair of the APPG on Alcohol Harm, said: “The latest report from the Alcohol Health Alliance highlights just some of the ways alcohol marketing makes everyday life more difficult for those in recovery. Ensuring that alcohol is included alongside junk food in the advertising restrictions being introduced under the Health and Care Bill will help de-centralise alcohol from our society and shield those in recovery from the constant bombardment of alcohol advertising they face every day.”
Derek Thomas MP said: “In my role as Commissioner for the Commission on Alcohol Harm, I heard dozens of stories about just how damaging alcohol can be to individuals, families and communities across the UK. Marketing is a major contributor to the culture of alcohol. Comprehensive restrictions on alcohol advertising across multiple media, including restrictions on sponsorships and activities targeting young people would be a great step in changing our country’s relationship with alcohol.”
 Hovland, R. (2015). Alcoholic beverage advertising: an integrative interdisciplinary review.
 Youth Alcohol Policy Survey (2019). YouGov survey conducted on behalf of Cancer Research UK. YouGov surveyed a total of 3,388 young people aged 11-19. 2,575 adolescents aged 11-17 participated. Fieldwork was undertaken between September to November 2019. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of the national profile of the UK population by age, gender, ethnicity, region and Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) deciles..
 Youth Alcohol Policy Survey (2019).
 Jernigan D, Noel J, et al Alcohol marketing and youth alcohol consumption: a systematic review of longitudinal studies published since 2008 Addiction – Wiley Online Library https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/add.13591