Last month British member of parliament and general practitioner Sarah Wollaston pleaded to launch a total ban on alcohol advertising on television. Her plan would also prohibit alcohol brands being used to sponsor sporting and cultural events. The plan is supported by a wide range of political parties and health experts. 

With her plans dr. Wollaston mainly hopes to protect children from alcohol marketing. In an interview with the independent she explained that the legislation would set out what and where advertising messages are allowed: “So rather than the current confused cocktail of statutory legislation and self-regulatory codes, let’s switch to something that actually works.”

The bill is modeled after the French Loi Evin. Alcohol advertisements in print media would only be allowed in media aimed at adults, on the radio alcohol commercials would only be permitted after 9pm and at movies only when they carry a 18 years certificate. The advertisements could only make factual statements like alcoholic strength, composition or place of origin. The advertisements would also be forced to carry advisory messages about responsible drinking and health.

According to Wollaston in The Independent all other forms of alcohol advertisements would be banned. This would mean the end of alcohol advertisements on television, in social media and in youth-certified films. Dr. Wollaston adds: “It would specifically prevent the growing threat from viral phone marketing, from ploys such as advergames on the internet where so-called games are a cover for alcohol marketing.”

The bill is backed up by an article from Professor Gerard Hastings and Dr. Nick Sheron which recently appeared on the website of the British Medical Journal. In the article the authors conclude that a lack of regulations has led to children having a “massive exposure to alcohol advertising”. A guilty finger is pointed to the Advertising Standards Authority and The Portman Group, representing the drinks industry, for administering the “clumsy imposed self regulatory codes”. The article too argues for restrictions through a French style law.

The quick responses to the article by Hastings and Sheron as well as the bill are typically misleading, for instance someone from Diageo is quoted on the website as saying that the article is full of “unsubstantiated” claims by “by two anti-alcohol lobbyists”. This person goes on to underline that Diageo and other drinks producers work ‘very hard’ to make sure no one under 18 is targeted by their advertisements and that they have clear measures to make sure that they don’t. According to David Poley of the Portman group it’s a myth that children start drinking because of alcohol exposure. He also sais: “The UK already has some of the strictest rules in place to prevent alcohol being marketed to children or in a way that might appeal to them. The call for a French-style advertising ban is entirely unfounded.”

A parliamentary critic of the plans is Tory member of parliament Phil Davies who described the proposed legislation as an extension of the ‘nanny state’. According to Mr. Davies: It is simply gesture politics to try and appease the health zealots in this country, most of whom can’t be appeased anyway.” He sees no merit in the plans, instead he pleads for ineffective measures like enforcement of laws banning the sale of alcohol to under-18s and greater education about the health dangers.

Marketing Week 24/04/11
BBC 25/04/11
The Independant 30/04/11

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