The Herald, 24th February 2023  By Helen McArdle

ALCOHOL-FREE products should be included under proposals to restrict alcohol marketing in Scotland, campaigners have said.

It comes amid fears that zero per cent beers and spirits have been used as “trojan horses” to continue promoting brands to consumers in Ireland, where stricter rules are already in place.

Doctors from the Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) – a partnership between the Medical Royal Colleges in Scotland and the Faculty of Public Health – are calling on the Scottish Government to ensure the alcohol industry does not exploit loopholes when plans to curb alcohol marketing are taken forward.

In Ireland, marketing restrictions mean that Six Nations sponsor Guinness is banned from displaying it’s standard branding on-pitch – but the almost identical “0.0” insignias are used instead (Image: Getty)

READ MORE: Alcohol could be ‘hidden like tobacco’ under new marketing curbs 

A consultation on the proposals for Scotland – which include bans on sports sponsorship, outdoor advertising on sites such as billboards and bus shelters, and tougher rules on retail displays – closes on March 9.

SHAAP said any measures adopted must also eliminate “alibi marketing”, whereby the core elements of a brand – such as straplines, logos, and colours – can be used to stimulate consumers’ familiarity with a product without strictly breaching advertising laws.

Outdoor advertising of alcohol would be curbed under proposals currently out for consultation (Image: Getty)

Examples include displaying the word “probably” on distinctive green hoardings in sports stadia in France in order to trigger associations with Carlsberg beer.

In Ireland – where on-pitch advertising of alcohol in now banned – the Six Nations tournament, which is sponsored by Guinness, marketing for its “0.0” alcohol-free product is used instead.

Alcohol Action Ireland (AAI) said similar tactics had been used on buses, where Heineken adverts had been replaced by “the very same ad, just with a zero added, small and hardly visible”. AAI argues that such zero alcohol adverts “are a trojan horse, opening the gates to further normalising drinking at every single occasion in life”.

READ MORE: Alcohol advertising ban will put distillery ‘out of business’

SHAAP said the enabling continued brand awareness – even through zero alcohol products – “encourages increased alcohol consumption and harms”. Dr Alastair MacGilchrist, a liver specialist and SHAAP chair, said: “We know from international examples that the alcohol industry will exploit any loopholes in regulation and the Scottish Government must ensure that whatever restrictions they take forward, they do not allow the alcohol industry to do this in Scotland. “Zero alcohol products are simply an extension of alcohol brands, and should not be treated as a separate entity. “The profits from these products still go back to the harmful commodities industry and the ability to market these products will only further brand recognition and contribute to the devastating alcohol harms we are experiencing in Scotland.”

Zero and low alcohol beers, wines and spirits have grown in popularity in recent years (Image: Getty)

In Ireland, the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 (PHAA) was implemented in 2019 with the aim of reducing alcohol use by 20 per cent through measures including marketing restrictions and minimum unit pricing.

Sheila Gilheany, CEO of Alcohol Action Ireland, said the rollout of the legislation was “immediately” followed by “the emergence of widespread alibi marketing or brand sharing in Ireland”. She added: “Despite the introduction of the Public Health Alcohol Act, we see the same brands being promoted in the same settings, just with a zero alcohol product replacement. “This totally undermines the objective of these measures, which were introduced to reduce exposure of the public to alcohol marketing.”

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