Over three-quarters of Brits want laws to limit the exposure of children and young people to alcohol advertising amid record alcohol deaths across the country.
The alcohol death toll is highest among older, heavier drinkers whose intake increased under the strain of the covid-19 crisis. Stopping alcohol marketing to under-18s could help curb future problems.
Alcohol is not part of the government’s plans to stop junk food advertising online and stop TV ads for it before 9pm in 2023, despite killing record numbers of British people in 2020.
“If alcohol is not included in the plans, we risk alcohol advertising filling the void that is left behind,” said Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, head of the Alcohol Health Alliance, of the survey done by YouGov for Action on Smoking and Health.
The survey found 77% support a ban on advertising alcohol to children and young people, with 70% supporting a ban on TV ads before 9pm, and 72% a ban on cinema ads for films for under 18s, the legal drinking age.
Another 57% of the 12,000 surveyed support a ban on alcohol advertising in public spaces such as streets, parks and on public transport. Parents have little control of the messages their children see outside the house.
Advertising is done to make products as desirable as possible to maximise sales. Consequently alcohol advertising is causally linked to earlier and riskier alcohol use among young people, with the vast majority seeing it.
Alcohol marketing in the UK is informally overseen by the alcohol and advertising industries themselves, and in special cases Ofcom, a government body. The alcohol industry says genuine regulation is unnecessary.
Others disagree. “Limits on the marketing can help prevent young people’s relationship with alcohol being influenced by advertising,” said Richard McVey of Aquarius, which helps young people with alcohol and other drug problems.
“We need comprehensive restrictions on alcohol advertising across multiple media, including restrictions on sponsorships and activities targeting young people,” said the Alcohol Health Alliance.
The placement of alcohol brands in nominally non-commercial content of TV and films raises yet more complex issues. This may lie beyond the scope of even a legally-empowered advertising regulator. ■
Note: You can explore this topic through the Alcohol in the Media event, with expert presentations from researchers Alex Barker and Amanda Atkinson, and Alison Douglas, head of the charity Alcohol Focus Scotland.