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Report claims spirit-ad responsibility success

By Neil Merrett , 09-Dec-2008

The ongoing debate on the effectiveness of self regulating responsible advertising for European sprits manufacturers rages on with a new report suggesting the industry in generally is living up to its commitments.

While industry-led organisations like the UK-based Portman Group continue to drive ahead with advertising initiatives, some health care organisations have questioned the willingness of the alcohol industry to work to its own detriment by restricting promotions.

However, the European Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA), says an impendent expert panel found that 95 per cent of 542 TV and print ads for spirits products, which were published between October and December last year, complied with industry regulations standards.

According to the European Sprits Organisation (CEPS), these standards are benchmarked against both national legislation and advertising codes across the bloc.

The study, which was conducted across 19 EU member states, was first initiated back in 2005 to measure industry compliance with its own self-regulation initiatives.

In the latest review, a panel including Lucien Bouis, Jack Law of charity Alcohol Focus Scotland and Marie-Hélène Cussac of think tank group Generation Europe rated the advertising campaigns.

Concern over alcohol abuse in the bloc continues to rise, particularly in regards to young people, leading to growing pressure from EU politicians for the industry to curb promoting excessive drinking.

Responsible ‘proof’

Jamie Fortescue, CEPS director general, said that the study was proof that self-regulation of advertising for spirits groups was having an impact.

“In response to ongoing discussions about the effectiveness of self-regulation in the EU Alcohol and Health Forum, this report shows that industry delivers on its advertising and monitoring commitments,” he stated.

Elizabeth Crossick, chairperson of industry led responsible drinking group the European Forum for Responsible Drinking (EFRD), said that the study has also helped to ensure the industry was better equipped to push responsible drinking messages.

“This yearly analysis is an important tool for companies to improve understanding of what is and is not acceptable advertising and to further ensure that only responsible advertising are placed on the market,” she stated.

On the back of a number of industry drives to continue to promote its commitment to self regulation over the last year, some heath groups remain critical of spirits makers’ claims over responsible promotion.

Andrew McNeill, honorary secretary for the alcohol policy group Eurocare, told earlier this year that around the world, industry-led social responsibility schemes are still viewed with cynicism by some health professionals.

McNeill claims that strong doubts persist over whether programs like the Portman Group's code of practice, which limits what imagery and messages can be used in adverts, provides the best solution for discouraging irresponsible drinking.

"One difficulty for the industry is that it is hard to persuade health care groups that it will voluntarily work to its own detriment," he said.

Ongoing debate

McNeill added that debate over the effectiveness of industry led responsible messages and self-regulation was likely to rage on as a key issue of the European Commission's (EC) Alcohol Health Forum.

"Certainly in the UK, advertising is a major problem related to alcohol policy," McNeill stated. "Too often, the only issue under discussion is how alcohol content is represented, with more of a focus on volume issues needed."

According to Eurocare, the rising use of new online media is also contributing to the problem, with the group claiming that a simple on-line search is likely to provide a number of examples of irresponsible drink promotions.

"Initiatives like those of the Portman group are doing useful things in the industry," he said. "But one has to ask if they would be doing this without pressure from public health lobbies."

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