Government Health Advisors call for blanket alcohol ad ban

Proposals by the Government’s chief health policy advisors for a blanket ban on advertising alcohol are “out of kilter” with other evidence says advertising body.

A report by the influential National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) today (2 June) puts forward a number of policy interventions to curb alcohol-related health problems.

These include the introduction of a minimum price per unit, the strengthening of current advertising regulations to minimise the exposure of the younger generation to alcohol and, most controversially, a “complete alcohol advertising ban”.

The proposals follow an extensive review of international evidence that has left Nice in “no doubt” that such measures would “significantly decrease alcohol consumption”.

However, industry bodies are less-than-convinced. The Advertising Association has questioned what evidence Nice has reviewed. The AA’s Ian Barber says:

“In its response to [a similar report by] the Health Select Committee a couple of months ago, the Government concluded there was no strong link between alcohol consumption and advertising.  Nice seem to have concluded the opposite. What they’ve found doesn’t seem to tally with the evidence that’s out there.”

However, Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians says: “The government needs to confront the culture of low prices, non-stop availability and saturation advertising in order to make a difference.”

The Nice report’s conclusions mirror those published by the cross-party Health Committee earlier this year,  also backing the introduction of a minimum alcohol price. The Government rejected such a move given the complexity of the issue. However, the report from Nice is likely to carry more weight.

Nice is best-known for advising the NHS on which drugs and other forms of treatment will benefit patients and are worth spending money on. But while it doesn’t have any direct remit on advertising it does have status as Whitehall’s primary adviser on which policies are most likely to address health problems: its backing of minimum pricing and stiffer advertising regulations is therefore significant.

The Con-Lib coalition government has yet to show its hand on minimum pricing, but has identified alcohol problems as one of its priorities with plans to stop alcohol being sold below cost price.

Most major retailers , industry bodies and The Portman Group reject the idea on the ground that it would unfairly penalise the majority of responsible drinkers. The British Retail Consortium says it is “too simplistic”. Tesco is the only major retailer to have publicly stated that it is in favour of at least discussing minimum pricing.

In terms of marketing, Nice recommended the following action are taken to reduce alcohol-related harm and cut the annual £2.7bn NHS bill for treating alcohol-related illnesses.

• Ensure children and young people’s exposure to alcohol advertising is as low as possible by considering a review of the current advertising codes. This review

would ensure:

– the limits set by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for the proportion of the audience under age 18 are appropriate

– where alcohol advertising is permitted there is adequate protection for children and young people

– all alcohol marketing, particularly when it involves new media (for example, web-based channels and mobile phones) and product placement, is covered by a stringent regulatory

system which includes ongoing monitoring of practice.

• Ofcom, the ASA and the government should keep the current regulatory structure under review.

• Assess the potential costs and benefits of a complete alcohol advertising ban to

protect children and young people from exposure to alcohol marketing.

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