Immediate changes to the way alcohol is advertised, backed up by a complete ban on advertising at all sporting, cultural and music events, are needed to protect children and young people from excessive exposure to alcohol advertising, according to the charity, Alcohol Concern.

In a major new report, Stick to the Facts, the charity claims that self regulation isn’t working. It says that high levels of alcohol brand recognition amongst children, increasing exposure to alcohol advertising among young people and numerous examples of inappropriate advertising content show the failings of the current system.

The report follows work by the Youth Alcohol Advertising Council (YAAC), a group of young people from across England and Wales who review alcohol advertising, making complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) when they feel content is irresponsible.

Alcohol Concern is making five recommendations to overhaul the way alcohol is advertised. Among them, it wants to see restrictions on the content of adverts, only allowing messages and images which refer to the characteristics of the product such as ingredients, origin, composition and means of production. It would mean that the promotion of ‘lifestyle’ images of drinkers or scenes which glamorise drinking would be banned.

It’s also calling for a complete ban on alcohol advertising at sporting, cultural and music events. It’s a move already made in France where rugby’s Heineken cup is known as the H cup.

Eric Appleby, Chief Executive of Alcohol Concern said:

“Children and young people are seeing more alcohol advertising than in the past and are better able to recognise alcohol brands than those of cakes or ice cream. This has to be a wake-up call to the fact that the way we regulate alcohol advertising isn’t working.

“Young people tell us that they think alcohol advertising sends a message that it’s cool and normal to drink, often to excess.

“It’s time we reset the balance between commercial and public interest. That’s why we want advertisers to stick to the facts alone and for alcohol advertising to be banned at sporting, cultural or music events.”

Commenting on the report Professor Gerard Hastings, Director of the Institute for Social Marketing and the Centre for Tobacco Control Research University of Stirling and the Open University said:

“This is a welcome and exciting move by Alcohol Concern: our young people need protecting from the alcohol industry’s insidious and persistent advertising practices.”

The report also claims that alcohol advertisers are actively exploiting weak rules, particularly around digital and internet advertising. It points to the ineffectiveness of the ASA’s reactive approach to dealing with complaints and a failure to apply the spirit of the rules in full. It says it’s time for an independent regulator with the power to investigate infringements proactively and to hand out meaningful deterrents, such as fines.

Speaking about the current regulatory code on alcohol advertising, Stuart O’Reilly, a 19 year old member of YAAC, said:

“The code is clearly unfit for purpose. Young people are bombarded with adverts that may not explicitly state, but often heavily imply, messages about alcohol that are inappropriate or misleading. This can be extremely damaging to young people who use these messages to form their relationship with alcohol.

“YAAC’s work is frustrated by the ASA’s lengthy investigation process and its limited remit, which enables alcohol advertisers to constantly push the boundaries with very little consequence to themselves.

“We need urgent change to ensure young people’s attitudes towards alcohol are not based on misinformation from those whose job it is to sell alcohol.”

In its report Alcohol Concern suggests the introduction of a model similar to the Loi Evin in France but adapted to suit the UK’s social and cultural context. The measures within the law have already been road tested in the highest European courts, so a potential obstacle to implementing something similar in the UK has been removed.

In 2012 the Government accepted the evidence that there was a link between exposure to alcohol advertising and consumption, particularly in children and young people under 18. Currently, regulation allows a situation where young people are seeing even more alcohol advertising than five years ago. The sensible policy response would be to introduce measures that adequately protect those underage.

Source: Alcohol Concern Press Release

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