Too much news not enough blog posts! I’m already writing posts for May so time to squeak in some extra one’s with important news stories. Thank you marketing week for the image 😉
The top story from the Institute of Alcohol Studies for January was the headline grabbing blog post title that alcohol marketing rules are failing to to protect our youth. To which I cynically want to respond: no shit sherlock!
Greater exposure raises likelihood of earlier and heavier drinking (10 January)
Young people across the world are over-exposed to extensive alcohol marketing practices, claim leading public health experts, who want governments to renew their efforts to address the problem by strengthening the rules governing alcohol marketing with more effective independent statutory regulations.
Their call coincides with the publication of a series of reports in a special edition of the scientific journal Addiction that presents the latest evidence on alcohol marketing and its impact on children. Key findings from the collection of peer-reviewed manuscripts include:
- 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, especially through social media.
The Addiction supplement comprises 14 papers, with research presented from around the world.
Alcohol is the leading cause of death and disability for young males aged 15–24 in nearly every region of the world, and young females of the same age in the wealthy countries and the Americas.
The new systematic review – which identified 12 additional studies – found an association between level of marketing exposure and youth drinking behaviour, and found that exposure to ads was even more strongly associated with progression to binge drinking than with initiation of alcohol use.
“This latest review of the scientific literature adds stronger evidence to the claim that exposure to alcohol marketing among youth is linked to more underage youth drinking and, in particular, binge drinking,” said study leader David Jernigan, PhD, the director of CAMY and an associate professor in the Department of Health, Behavior and Society at the Bloomberg School.
The supplement’s lead editor, Professor Thomas Babor of the University of Connecticut said: “Governments are responsible for the health of their citizens. No other legal product with such potential for harm is as widely promoted and advertised in the world as alcohol. These papers provide a wealth of information to support governments in their efforts to protect children and other vulnerable populations from exposure to alcohol marketing.”
The researchers relied upon four different medical and scientific databases to identify articles for possible inclusion in the review. Studies were included in the final review if they met a number of criteria, including whether they used original data and included measures of marketing exposure and alcohol consumption for at least 500 underage youth. Studies were included only if they used self-reported and observed actual alcohol use such as binge drinking, as opposed to just measures of intentions to consume alcohol in the future. The studies were conducted in seven countries and involved more than 35,000 participants.
Several of the included studies found that levels of marketing exposure appear to be as high or nearly as high among younger adolescents as they are among older adolescents and young adults, suggesting that current voluntary alcohol industry marketing codes are not protecting kids as young as 10 years old.
Alcohol NGOs and health experts welcomed the findings as further evidence of self-regulation’s failure to curb alcohol marketing to young people. Chris Brookes of the UK Health Forum noted that: “Governments have previously approved self-regulatory measures on alcohol advertising; however, we can no longer say that they might work to protect our young people – they don’t. In a literature review of more than 100 studies, none was identified that supported the effectiveness of industry self-regulation programmes.”
However, the advertising industry regulator has criticised the research, claiming that the UK’s regulatory framework has had a positive impact on recent official figures showing under-age drinking at a record low and a decline in binge drinking.
“Alcohol policy is clearly on the right track and alcohol advertising – which protects children and respects adults – is an important part of that,” says Ian Barber, the AA’s director of communications.
In the UK, advertising for alcoholic drinks follows a code enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority, while the packaging and branding of the products is subject to self-regulation. And according to the Guardian, AB Inbev and Diageo, two of the world’s biggest alcoholic drinks makers, have reported ploughing as much of 15% of their annual global sales back into marketing, amounting to £5.75bn and £1.6bn respectively.
Ian Hamilton, lecturer in the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York, whose interests include substance use addiction, told the newspaper the AA’s claim that the UK’s alcohol advertising rules are among the strictest in the world, major operators had nevertheless found ways to evade marketing legislation the UK.
“Some of the messages are quite subtle, but they are persistent,” he said. “So this idea that alcohol is necessary for social success, or is both a stimulant as well as a sedative, that it removes sexual inhibition, that it improves – bizarrely – your sporting and mental abilities.
“Of course, the way they do it is they don’t say go and buy Carlsberg, but they’ll do endorsed interviews with celebrities or they’ll offer free music downloads or notices of events, so they do it in quite subtle and clever ways.”
The papers offer guidelines to developing more effective alcohol marketing regulations:
- 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 or constitutional principles
- Regulations should be statutory, and enforced by an appropriate public health agency of the local or national government, not by the alcohol industry
- Regulations should be independent of the alcohol industry, whose primary interest lies in growing its markets and maximising profits
- A global agreement on the marketing of alcoholic beverages would support country efforts to move towards a comprehensive ban on alcohol advertising, promotion and sponsorship
- Collaboration with other population-level 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.
“It is clear that self-regulation is not working and we welcome calls for greater action from governments to protect children from exposure to alcohol marketing,” said Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA), an umbrella group of more than 40 UK health NGOs, including the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges.
Hamilton also warned that a blanket ban on alcohol advertising could be seen as “taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut”, with the danger that such a policy could give drinking a kind of outlaw prestige that might increase its appeal to some. But he admitted that a similar policy on tobacco advertising had apparently proved successful in diminishing the appeal of smoking. “I think the state does have some kind of responsibility,” Hamilton said. “We can’t have do-it-yourself regulation by industry whose prime motive is to find the next generation of consumers.”
The Addiction supplement, ‘Alcohol marketing regulation: From research to public policy’, is freely accessible from the Wiley Online Library. You can also listen to David Jernigan talk about the supplement’s findings in greater depth in our Alcohol Alert podcast.
And Liam Byrne interviews Alaistair Campbell about this very thing!
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