Alcohol Advertising Heading For The Gutter?

Fosters.SmirnoffBudweiserPimmsGuinness.Bailey’s. You know the brands, you know the ads and you probably know what some (most?) of them taste like too. But you may need to savour that (hazy?) memory if the people at the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) have their way.

NICE, an independent advisory group to the NHS, published a 100-page report on Wednesday issuing recommendations that they believe will help reverse Britain’s underage and binge drinking culture- including a total ban of all UK alcohol advertising and a steep increase on the prices of all alcoholic beverages.

According to Professor Ian Gilmore, the President of the Royal College of Physicians and Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, the NHS are reportedly paying an annual bill of £2.7billion for the treatment of alcohol-related illness.

Furthermore, Britain’s heavy drinking culture has been the leading cause of death for nearly 15,000 citizens each year, as well as up to 1.2million violent alcohol-induced incidents.

There is clear evidence from around the world that we are drinking much more than most other developed countries and the problem is apparent right across society- not just with our teenagers or with binge-drinking,” said Professor Eileen Kaner, Chief of the NICE Guidance Development group linked to the case.

We are constantly surrounded by various images of and opportunities to buy alcohol, from promotional offers in supermarkets, to advertisements in the media. This encourages us to drink more than we otherwise would, sometimes without us even realising it.”

NICE’s recommendations regarding advertising and marketing of alcohol include:

  • Ensuring the limits set by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) are appropriate for the proportion of the audience under age 18
  • Providing adequate  protection for children and young people where alcohol advertising is permitted
  • Constructing a stringent regulatory system to cover all alcohol marketing, particularly when it involves new media (for example, web-based channels and mobile phones) and product placement.
  • Ofcom, the ASA and the government should keep the current regulatory structure under review.
  • Assessing the potential costs and benefits of a complete alcohol advertising ban to protect children and young people from exposure to alcohol marketing.

This has sparked a widespread debate in the alcohol, marketing and advertising industries as to the validity of NICE’S argument. Is there enough evidence to suggest that a steep rise in alcohol prices will cause a drop in  drinking rates? Would a reduction/outright ban of advertising and promotional tools really stave off Britain’s thirst for the booze?

Not at all, according to Ian Twinn, director of public affairs at ISBA, who believes NICE failed to consult with the advertising industry throughout their study and that their report overlooked legislations which are already in place to restrict drunken behaviour.  “It is making claims that are not borne out by the facts,” Twinn said.    

He continued: “Banning advertising is not going to stop people from eating and drinking too much. We need to use advertising as a positive force.”

Britain has been here before of course. Replace the words ‘alcohol’ with ‘smoking’, and reminisce back to a time known as the mid 1980’s and 1990’s. By 1986, television adverts were censored from showing a person actually smoking and by the mid 1990’s, corner shops, newsagents and off licenses were forced to remove cigarette branding from their front-of-shop displays.

And after the Labour government took power in 1997, a pledge to crack down on smoking advertising was eventually enforced (in stages) from 2003-2005. But are these strategies really comparable?

British pubs, bars and hospitality trades have already felt the squeeze after the UK smoking ban in public indoor areas, with the pubs being the greatest victim to the harsh economic conditions. While there are various issues at work here, the smoking ban has undoubtedly been a contributing factor. What would a price rise in alcohol achieve?

The poor might resort to brewing a slightly more ‘special’ of special brews, but a more likely scenario could be a rise in crime, as the most desperate drinkers attempt to  get their hands on the base rate booze. Hardly an improvement.

So are we about to witness a cataclysmic moment for these trades and industries anytime soon? Probably not. The new coalition Government has said it will stop supermarkets from selling alcohol below cost price but they have made no further promises beyond that.

Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, said: “Regarding NICE’s recommendations… it is not clear that the research examines specifically the regressive effect on low income families, or proves conclusively that it is the best way to impact price in order to impact demand.”

He continued: “The root causes of social problems lie not just in Government policies – although 24-hour drinking legislation has severely undermined clinician and police efforts to get to grips with this problem – but in social norms and peer influence.” 

This would indicate a return to  depression-era 1930’s American prohibition to still be very much a long shot. Let’s embrace it! If the sun’s a-shining like it is in London today (it’s 27 degrees!), take advantage of the slightly over-expensive drinks prices and enjoy your Friday evening! Just like the British summer, these prices are unlikely to last forever. Source:

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