Authors: Peter Anderson Title: The Impact of Alcohol Advertising: ELSA project report on the evidence to strengthen regulation to protect young people. Organization: the National Foundation for Alcohol Prevention, the Netherlands and the ELSA project 2005-2007.

 A full text pdf of this report is available here

Summary and conclusions:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Beverage alcohol, although a ubiquitous toxin, is a widely marketed product in both traditional and non-traditional media, including information society services 

Alcohol is a ubiquitous toxin that can harm almost any system or organ of the body. Beverages which contain alcohol are in essence marketed products, whose identities are built with a complex mix of marketing technologies, including traditional advertising as well as sponsorships, sweepstakes, couponing, product placement, new product development, point-of-purchase materials and promotions, person-to-person and viral marketing, distribution and sale of branded merchandise, and the use of more recent technologies such as mobile phones and the internet. Commercial communications can be defined as all forms of advertising, direct marketing, sponsorship, sales promotions and public relations promoting products and services, and these are currently regulated by both statutory and non-statutory means. Traditional global advertising expenditures of the top nine alcohol beverage companies totalled more than € 2.5 billion in 2004, but this is probably only one third of the total communications expenditure of these companies, if non-traditional advertising is also included.

Current European regulations for commercial communications on alcohol are poorly monitored and widely diverse, creating the need for approximation across Europe, with specification needed as to the extent to which alcohol advertising in certain categories of media and publications is allowed

The only European statutory regulation that contains an article specific to alcohol is the Television without Frontiers Directive, which is currently being reviewed and which includes articles that cover the content of alcohol advertisements, but no requirements in relation to the volume of advertisements. There is no body of information which tells us the extent to which this Directive is implemented. Also at the European level, the Council Recommendation on the drinking of alcohol by young people includes a number of recommendations on the content of alcohol advertisements, and one recommendation that deals partly with volume (advertising in media targeted at children and adolescents or reaching a significant number of children and adolescents). The Recommendation is not legally binding, and, again, there is no body of information which tells us the extent to which it is implemented.

All European countries have at least one regulation that covers alcohol marketing and advertising, with 49 statutory and 27 non-statutory regulations in 24 countries. All countries, with the exception of the United Kingdom, have a ban of one form or another of one or more types of advertising. Statutory regulations seem to be stronger than non-statutory regulations in that they are more are more likely to include systematic checks on violations of codes and are more likely to cover volume restrictions than non-statutory regulations. As with the European level, there is no body of information which tells us the extent to which the country level regulations are implemented. There are clear differences between European countries’ laws, regulations and administrative provisions on the advertising of alcohol products. Such advertising commonly crosses country borders or involves events organized on an international level. As has been the case with tobacco products, the differences in national legislation are likely to give rise to increasing barriers to the free movement between countries of the products or services that serve as the support for such advertising. There is a strong argument that these barriers should be eliminated and, to this end, the rules relating to the advertising of alcoholic products should in specific cases be approximated across Europe. In particular, there is a need to specify the extent to which alcohol advertising in certain categories of media and publications is allowed.

Young people are particularly vulnerable to alcohol and to alcohol advertising, which is commonly targeted to them

Young people are at particular risk of alcohol-related harm, including accidents and injuries and untimely death. There is evidence over the last 10 years that young people all over Europe have been increasingly consuming alcohol in a more risky fashion. What is particularly worrying is that the earlier the age young people start to drink, and the more they drink at a young age, the more likely they are to suffer alcohol related harm and to become dependent on alcohol as a young adult. Young people are influenced by the availability of products that are targeted to them, but also are particularly responsive to increased prices and reduced availability of alcohol. To reduce the harm done by alcohol to young people, there are strong arguments for restricting the production of alcoholic beverages that are specifically produced and targeted at children and adolescents, and strong arguments for ensuring that alcoholic beverages do not become more affordable for young people, and that restrictions on the availability of alcohol to young people are widely enforced. The adolescent brain undergoes major development, which makes adolescents more vulnerable to impulsivity with greater sensitivity to pleasure and reward. Young people who already have problems related to alcohol are likely to be particularly vulnerable to alcohol advertising, with the vulnerability increasing with increasing alcohol consumption. Alcohol advertising manipulates adolescents’ vulnerability by shaping their attitudes, perceptions and particularly expectancies about alcohol use, which then influence youth decisions to drink. This vulnerability is exacerbated by the enormous exposure to commercial communications, not only through traditional media, which are highly targeted to young people, but also through mobile phones and the Internet, which have particular appeal to young people. Article 95(3) of the Treaty of the European Union requires the Commission, in its proposals for the establishment and functioning of the Internal Market concerning health, to take as a base a high level of protection. An approximation of the European countries’ advertising laws, including statutory regulations and a ban in certain media would protect young people, by regulating the promotion of alcohol, an addictive product responsible for over 25% of young male deaths and over 11% of young female deaths, and avoid a situation where young people begin using alcohol at an early age and in a risky fashion as a result of promotion, and thereby become dependent.

Alcohol advertisements are related to young people’s expectancies about alcohol and their desire to consume alcohol There is an enormous wealth of evidence that alcohol advertisements are related to positive attitudes and beliefs about alcohol amongst young people. In addition, the content of advertisements is related to expectancies about the use of alcohol amongst young people and the role of alcohol in their lives. Young people are particularly drawn to elements of music, characters, story and humour. Young people who like advertisement believe that positive consequences of drinking are more likely, their peers drink more frequently, and their peers approve more of drinking. These beliefs interact to produce a greater likelihood of drinking, or of intention to drink in the near future. These results are not surprising, given that increased desires to drink must be one of the main aims of commercial communications. One example of a law which restricts the content of advertising is the French Loi Evin, which limits the messages and images of alcohol advertisements to only refer to the quality of the product.

Alcohol advertisements increase the likelihood of young people starting to drink, the amount they drink, and the amount they drink on any one occasion Six US-based well designed longitudinal studies and one Belgian well designed longitudinal study show that the volume of advertisements and media exposure increase the likelihood of young people starting to drink, the amount they drink, and the amount they drink on any one occasion. There have been no published longitudinal studies that do not find such an effect. These findings are similar to the impact of advertising on smoking and eating behaviour, and are not surprising, given that increased drinking must be the main hoped for outcome of commercial communications. It is difficult to study the relationship between expenditure on commercial communications, or whether or not there are bans on alcohol advertisements in a jurisdiction and drinking by young people. Where this has been done, some studies have found that increased expenditure on advertising is associated with increased alcohol-related harm amongst young people, and that total bans have reduced alcohol-related harm, whereas others have not. In general, later studies seem to have found more of an effect of commercial communications. The evidence would thus show that there is a need to specify the extent to which alcohol advertising in certain categories of media and publications is allowed, and it would suggest that, as is the case with tobacco, consideration should be given to the prohibition of advertising of alcohol products on television and radio and in specified certain print media.

There is no available scientific evidence which shows that the non-statutory regulation of commercial communications impacts on the content or volume of advertisements There is no scientific evidence available that tests the effectiveness of nonstatutory regulation or shows that it works in regulating the content of commercial commnications or in reducing the volume of commercial commiunications. On the other hand, there is documentation and experience that shows that selfregulation does not prevent the kind of marketing which can have an impact on younger people. It could be argued that self-regulation could work to the extent that there is a current and credible threat of regulation by government. Further, it could be considered that, unless industry processes related to alcohol advertising standards come under a legal framework, and are monitored and reviewed by a government agency, governments may find that allowing industry self-regulation results in a loss of policy control of the marketing of a product that impacts heavily on public health.

Educational approaches cannot be considered as alternative alcohol policy options to the regulation of the marketing of alcohol, including advertising 

Although educational approaches to reduce the harm done by alcohol to young people are intuitively appealing, theoretical evidence would suggest that they are unlikely to achieve sustained behavioural change in an environment in which many competing messages are received in the form of marketing and social norms supporting drinking, and in which alcohol is readily available. This is confirmed by a substantial body of evidence, which shows that educational approaches are largely ineffective in reducing the harm done by alcohol to young people. Thus, educational approaches cannot be considered as alternative alcohol policy options to the regulation of the marketing of alcohol, including price, availability and advertising.

Three quarters of European citizens approve the banning of alcohol advertising targeting young people throughout Europe Experience from other sectors and directives demonstrate that it is quite possible to regulate commercial communications in both traditional and non-traditional media. The European Union 2003 tobacco directive has shown that it is quite possible to ban the advertising of tobacco products in the broadcast and print media, and to ban relevant sport sponsorship. Were such a ban to be introduced for alcohol products, the adjustment costs to the media sector would be nonexistent or very small. Along with taxation and restricted sales, an advertising ban would be one of the most cost effective options in reducing alcohol-related illhealth and premature death in the European Union. Three quarters of European citizens approve the banning of alcohol advertising targeting young people throughout Europe.

Urgent attention needs to be given to the creation of the European equivalent of the US Centre on Alcohol Marketing and Youth to monitor youth exposure to commercial communications

Using industry-standard data sources and methods that are available to advertisement agencies and advertisers, the volume of commercial communications as measured by expenditure and youth exposure to commercial communications need to be monitored, tracked and reported for all Member States and the European Union as a whole, annually. Youth exposure should be related to youth audience composition. Using governmental and nongovernmental data sources, the prevalence, content and adherence to regulations of commercial communications need to be documented, tracked and reported on an annual basis. The ELSA project has provided the baseline for this work. There needs to be a considerable investment in funding additional longitudinal studies to assess the impact of commercial communications in a range of media on youth drinking in a variety of European cultures.
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