A leading doctor has called for a total ban on all alcohol advertising, including sports sponsorship, in a bid to curb Britain’s binge-drinking culture.
The plea from Professor Ian Gilmore, the incoming president of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), comes as new figures reveal that the number of alcohol-related deaths in the UK has doubled in the past 15 years.
According to the Government, alcohol misuse costs the NHS about £1.6bn every year.
Dr Nick Sheron, a member of the RCP’s alcohol committee, says the body wants to protect underage drinkers: “Most alcohol ads are aimed at 18to 23-years-olds. The sorts of ads that appeal to that age group also appeal to children and teenagers.”
The RCP hopes the drinks industry will accept a ban on pre-watershed ads and on sponsorship, although Sheron admits that drinks companies are unlikely to support a total ban on all marketing activities.
Resistance may also come from sections of the Government, with sponsorship from alcohol companies worth about £800m to British sport in 2004.
The Portman Group, the UK alcohol industry’s self-regulatory body, argues there is no need for such Draconian measures. David Poley, chief executive of The Portman Group, says: “Broadcast and press ads are tightly controlled by the Advertising Standards Authority, while The Portman Group’s code of practice on the naming, packaging and promotion of alcoholic drinks has led to over 70 irresponsible products being re-branded or removed from shelves in the past ten years.”
Rules in place
ASA and Portman Group rules ban promotions that appeal to under-18s, encourage binge drinking and link drinking to increased popularity or sexual success. Alcohol companies are not allowed to sponsor music or sports events if more than one quarter of those participating or watching are aged under 18 years.
It is understood that The Portman Group is about to make some fundamental changes to its code. It is expected to announce a complete ban on the use of alcohol brand logos on children’s replica sports kits. The code currently says sports clubs must offer a logo-free alternative.
Frank Sodeen, campaigns manager at alcohol abuse charity Alcohol Concern, says: “Children have become walking billboards for drinks brands and we don’t think that’s right.”
Such a move will be seen by many anti-alcohol lobbyists as an attempt by the drinks industry to stave off the threat of much tougher legislation. But while that may work for England and Wales, in Scotland, where the Scottish Executive has been taking a much tougher line on tackling alcohol abuse and related medical and social problems, much more stringent measures are already on the cards.
Last week a ground-breaking agreement between the Executive, leading drinks manufacturers, the on-trade and retailers was published. It commits all parties to a raft of measures in advance of Scotland’s Licensing Act, which will come into force from 2009.
Among the measures that have been agreed are the development of sensible drinking messages; sharing media and marketing expertise to promote those messages; working with the media to “discourage inappropriate endorsement or legitimisation of inappropriate alcohol consumption”; and the launch of low alcohol and alcohol-free alternatives.
If, as with the smoking ban, the rest of the UK follows suit, drinks companies could be forced to develop more low alcohol and non-alcohol brands and support them with significant marketing budgets.