Dan Mushens reacts to the Scottish Government’s plans to restrict alcohol advertising;

23 November 2018

Tobacco and nicotine are usually considered as equivalents but it seems tobacco advertising is more firmly censured than alcohol is. We’re not even allowed to look at a box of cigarettes in shops these days and when we do catch sight of a packet, they contain images of diseased organs intended to act as a warning of the associated risks. There’s even a discussion in Wales at the moment about banning smoking in parts of its cities public spaces.

We have laws relating to how much alcohol costs, how much tax is paid on it, where it can be consumed, what strength it can be, how old you need to be to buy it, where it can be sold and what time it can be bought etc. I say let’s be brave and have an outright ban on the advertising of it. If the economy takes a hit, then so be it, the alcohol industry will adapt just as the tobacco industry seems to have done.

Although the introduction of minimum unit pricing earlier this year is generally praised as a positive intervention, maybe we’re not as progressive as we think. Scandinavian countries regularly seem to come out on top in wellbeing, happiness and health indexes. And interestingly, in Norway alcohol advertising on TV has been banned since 1975.

Just last week, Ireland introduced tougher laws restricting alcohol advertising near schools and playgrounds as a way of reducing the promotion and normalisation of alcohol around children.

Also, you may have seen the headlines about a television advert for the foodchain Iceland; which was apparently banned for being overly political – i.e. it raised awareness of the consequences of deforestation linked to the palm oil production industry.

It’s not as if we’re reluctant to ban certain things from our television screens. If an Iceland advert is deemed to be too controversial for viewer’s eyes, then by comparison surely alcohol should be banned too.

I’m fast approaching 40 years of age, which means I was a child of the eighties. A vivid memory from my early years is of watching the various public information films that were on TV most days, usually during children’s TV shows and on weekends.  

These were short films usually commissioned by the UK governments now defunct Central Office of Information, they were intended to promote safety and raise awareness of common dangers. I would say alcohol is now a contemporary common danger and promoting the sale of it seems needless. People will seek it out if they really want it, just like they do with tobacco products.

Remember when Kenny Everett voiced the Charlie Says series of films? Charlie being a cat who advised children of what to do during different encounters they may be faced with. The films covered dangers such as talking to strangers, playing with matches, appliances in the kitchen and playing next to water.

Instead of advertising alcohol as a desirable product, how about we bring back public information films to advise the public about the detrimental impact that alcohol can have on individuals, families and communities.

It’s rather ironic to think that such adverts, which aim to raise some awareness amongst the population, are no longer seen on our screens. Yet we have an ever increasing number of channels on our televisions that often show repeat after repeat just to fill air time.

I’m not saying alcohol is bad per se, but let’s face it, I don’t think it’s controversial to say the negatives far outweigh the positives. Maybe what we need is the return of Charlie to tell us about the reality of using and misusing alcohol.

Change is the only constant so let’s get the ball rolling.

Dan Mushens is a recovery practitioner for Scottish mental health charity Penumbra, specialising in the field of alcohol related brain damage (ARBD).

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