ISBA set for clash over Balls underage drinking strategy

A row is simmering between the Government and advertisers over plans to co-opt the alcohol industry into a concerted drive against underage drinking.

In the latest move by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, Secretary of State Ed Balls is considering asking alcohol advertisers to run campaigns talking directly to youngsters about the dangers of underage drinking.

The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) has questioned the move and says the Government should instead concentrate on educating the parents about underage drinking.

ISBA director of public affairs Ian Twinn says: “We are concerned that businesses are being asked to give the message to youngsters that underage drinking is harmful. We think the move will be counter productive. Education is the right approach and the Government should be targeting parents to talk about the ill-effects of underage drinking.

The Government also needs to focus on the selling of alcohol to underage drinkers, rather than saying that advertising is to blame for excessive drinking.”

At the recent Labour Party conference in Bournemouth, Balls talked about discouraging excessive drinking in the family home. His department is drafting a “guidance code” for parents on alcohol consumption outlining its impact on the under 18s.

Twinn says the Drink-Aware Trust, set up last year to promote responsible drinking, is already working on several initiatives to educate the public. The Trust is co-funded by the Government, drinks manufacturers and retailers (MW October 6, 2005).

The Government’s Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy is being led by the Home Office and the Department of Health. Ball’s department is the latest to join the continuing alcohol harm reduction review, which is now also looking at the pricing and promotion of alcoholic drinks.

The UK’s first alcohol harm reduction strategy was launched in 2004 to look into alcohol-related crime, underage drinkers and adult drinkers in danger of damaging their health. The Home Office is holding an ad pitch to appoint an agency to handle the £10m campaign aimed at tackling problem drinking (MW June 21).

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