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Current controls on alcohol marketing do not protect youth, argue public health experts: but industry defends self-regulation

By Rachel Arthur+

11-Jan-2017
Last updated on 11-Jan-2017 at 14:50 GMT2017-01-11T14:50:42Z

Pic:iStock
Pic:iStock

Young people are exposed to ‘extensive alcohol marketing’ and governments around the world need to strengthen rules, say public health experts, as a supplement on the subject is published in the journal Addiction. But the Alcohol Information Partnership, a UK group funded by eight beverage companies, argues that self-regulation is working. 

In Addiction, the authors call for more effective independent statutory regulations as ‘current controls on marketing appear ineffective in blocking the association between youth exposure and subsequent drinking’.

They write that alcohol is the leading cause of death and disability for young males aged 15-24 in almost all regions of the world, and young females aged 15-24 in wealthy countries and the Americas.

But while the authors call for governments to renew efforts, the Alcohol Information Partnership argues that industry self-regulation is the most appropriate and cost effective way to ensure responsible advertising and marketing.

Public health experts: ‘Regulations should be enforced by public health agencies’

The supplement, which is funded by Alcohol Research UK and the Institute of Alcohol Studies, consists of 14 papers that originated in work undertaken by the UK Health Forum to bring EU and US alcohol policy leads together.

Recommendations from the authors say that the most effective response to alcohol marketing is likely to be a comprehensive ban on alcohol advertising, promotion and sponsorship in accordance with each country’s constitution.

Paper findings:
  • Exposure to alcohol marketing is associated with youth alcohol consumption.
  • Analysis of alcohol promotion during the 2014 FIFA World Cup indicates alcohol marketing practices ‘frequently appeared to breach industry voluntary codes of practice’.
  • Alcohol industry self-regulatory codes ‘do not sufficiently protect children and adolescents’ from exposure to alcohol promotions, particularly through social media.

Regulations should be independent of the alcohol industry, ‘whose primary interest lies in growing its markets and maximizing profits’, add the authors. Instead, they say regulations should be enforced by public health agencies or government.

A global agreement on the marketing of alcoholic beverages would support individual country efforts to move towards a comprehensive ban on alcohol advertising, promotion and sponsorship, adds the supplement. 

And collaboration with other efforts to restrict marketing of ‘potentially harmful products’ (such as ultra-processed food, sugary beverages, tobacco, and breast-milk substitutes) should be encouraged and supported, they add.

AIP: ‘Best way to reduce harm is to target programs at harmful drinkers’

The Alcohol Information Partnership was set up in the UK in 2016 and is funded by Bacardi, Brown-Forman, Beam Suntory, Gruppo Campari, Diageo, Moet Hennessy, Pernod Ricard and Remy Cointreau.

It says that alcohol consumption, harmful drinking and underage drinking have all be falling year on year in the UK.

“A self-regulatory framework and a partnership approach have clearly been working,” said Dave Roberts, director general, Alcohol Information Partnership.

“The best way to reduce alcohol-related harm is to target programmes and policies at harmful drinkers.”

Government focus should be on understanding what has worked well over the past 10 years, rather than restricting the freedom of companies, he added.

In the UK there is no evidence to show that alcohol sponsorship increases consumption or misuse of alcohol, either in adults or underage consumers, or that bans on alcohol sponsorship are effective in addressing harmful drinking, Roberts continued.

“Self-regulation is the most appropriate and cost effective way to ensure responsible advertising and marketing.

“Unfortunately there is a misperception that believes self-regulation is simply the industry sitting in judgement on itself. It isn’t, and it shouldn’t be. There is also a misperception that self-regulation is incapable of moving quickly.

“In reality, relying on the courts to rule on individual code breaches would be much slower, more expensive and less efficient.” 

“Under self-regulatory systems, consumers get a fast, concrete answer to their concerns: complaints are usually handled within three to 30 working days, which is much faster than court actions. The process avoids red tape and lengthy procedures, relieving the burden on the legal system and costs tax payers nothing.”

Another benefit is that rules can be adapted easily as society and technology change, he added.

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