Last week the British government published it’s hotly debated Alcohol Strategy. Among the commitments of the strategy, are plans to introduce a floor pricing of 40 pence per alcoholic unit, as well as plans to ban two-for-one promotions to combat binge drinking. The strategy has been met with mixed reactions, particularly concerning its approach to advertising and the reliance on the responsibilities of the alcohol industry.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s new Alcohol Strategy sets out proposals to ‘crackdown on “binge drinking”, cut the alcohol fuelled violence and disorder that blights too many communities, and slash the number of people drinking to damaging levels.”
The strategy includes commitments to:
– introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol
-consult on a ban on the sale of multi-buy alcohol discounting
-introduce stronger powers for local areas to control the density of licensed premises including making the impact on health a consideration for this
-pilot innovative sobriety schemes to challenge alcohol-related offending
Minimum pricing to raise revenue of alcohol producers?
Among the critics of the strategy, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has been adamant for some time now, that the approach to floor pricing per unit is undesirable. The institute argues that it would be preferable if the minimum placing were put in place through the duty system. For example, by moving ‘towards a more equal tax treatment of alcohol by type and strength combined with a restriction on selling alcohol below the total tax levied on it’. This way, the extra money that could be gained from the new floor pricing, could be put into the Treasury. The institute estimates this would yield £850 million per year.
As it ss, the Alcohol Strategy will see any extra revenue flow directly into the coffers of alcohol producers. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Alcohol Strategy suggests that the government will ‘… work with industry to use any additional revenue to provide better value to customers in other areas..’, though it is hard to see how this could be enforced or even monitored.
The strategy doesn’t provide any concrete actions to strengthen regulations on alcohol advertising. It does however emphasize the government’s trust in the responsibility of the alcohol industry. For example, the strategy says: ‘We will drive greater industry responsibility and action in tackling alcohol misuse.’
The strategy repeatedly refers to existing vehicles of the self-regulation system, such as the ParentPort website (which intends to inform parents about regulations and their rights to complain).
Paragraph 2.15 of the Alcohol Strategy provides a good example of the vaguely formulated commitments to protecting minors from exposure to alcohol advertisements and the dependence on the self-regulatory system:
‘There are specific rules to prevent adverts being shown in a context which will have ‘a particular appeal’ to people aged under 18. While these rules restrict the targeting of young people, they still allow potentially large numbers of under-18s to see alcohol advertising. We will work with the ASA and Ofcom to examine ways to ensure that adverts promoting alcohol are not shown during programmes of high appeal to young people.’
Despite the lack of hard commitments to strengthen regulations on alcohol advertising, the industry has already lashed out at the plans. Ian Twinn, the director of public affairs at advertiser body Isba, criticized the plans in an interview with Marketing Magazine. Although one could question whether he has actually read the Alcohol Strategy: ‘The existing rules already ban alcohol ads during programmes where there is a likelihood of a high proportion of children tuning in. These new proposals may have a very serious impact on the funding of the TV programmes that rely on adspend.’
It seems Mr. Twinn, is afraid of the implementation of a time ban on television. While it’s true that paragraph 2.15 of the Alcohol Strategy might infer that the government is looking into a time ban, it seems that Mr. Twinn is getting overly excited about something that holds no relation to the Alcohol Strategy as it is.
However there are also voices being heard in favor of a time band, stating that the current Alcohol Strategy does not go far enough. John Stoddart, Chief Constable in Durham, who also leads alcohol policing for the national Association of Chief Police Officers, told Sky News that a 9pm watershed is needed because of the harm that alcohol causes.
‘We have a responsibility as a society to protect our children, and I don’t think that’s being achieved by pretty much unlimited alcohol advertising on TV,’ he told Sky News. ‘As far as I’m concerned, 9pm seems to be a sensible balance between the rights of individuals to choose to buy something and protecting our children,’ he said.
Stoddard’s statement found support by such organizations as Balance, the UK’s North East’s alcohol office, whose director Colin Shevills, said: ‘We shouldn’t be talking about controlling the culture (of drinking) as it is, we should be talking about changing that culture (…). That means stopping selling alcohol at pocket-money prices, it means making it less available and it means stopping the industry promoting it in the way they are.’