In a damning report in response to the Government’s Alcohol Strategy, the cross party Health Select Committee says the impact of introducing the “principles” of Loi Evin, the French law that prohibits alcohol ads on television and in cinemas, requires all spots to be accompanied by a health warning and bans alcohol brands from sponsoring sporting or cultural events should be studied, one of several measures proposed by the Committee to cut the “insidious and pervasive” health effect of over consumption.
The report states: “Although the precise terms of the Loi Evin reflect the circumstances of a different society at a different time, the committee believes that the approach adopted in the French legislation merits serious examination in the English context.”
Elsewhere, the Committee says it is ”concerned” that the evidence provided by “those speaking on behalf of the alcohol industry” – the committee heard from industry figures such as Portman Group chief executive Henry Ashworth during the three month inquiry – did not acknowledge a link between advertising and consumption. Many in the industry argue that alcohol encourages brand switching and not increased intake.
It adds: “It [the industry] must acknowledge the power of its advertising messages and accept responsibility for their consequences. The industry will take a significant step down this road when it makes it clear that alcoholic products should not be marketed in ways which address audiences a significant proportion of whom are aged under 18, and cannot therefore legally purchase the product.”
On the Government’s voluntary “Responsibility Deal”, which has seen many brewers and producers commit to unit reduction and wider promotion of low alcohol drinks, the report says all in the alcohol industry should be forced to sign up. “The committee does not believe that participation by the alcohol industry in the Responsibility Deal should be regarded by anyone as optional – we regard it as intrinsic to responsible corporate citizenship.”
The committee’s recommendations have been slammed by the advertising industry, which argues that existing advertising codes overseen by the Advertising Standards Authority and voluntary self-regulation such as The Portman Group’s marketing code of conduct are sufficient.
Ian Barber, spokesman for the Advertising Association dismissed consideration of Loi Evin. “We already know the suggested measures don’t work. Eight years after its introduction, the French Parliament and anti-alcohol campaigners labelled Loi Evin ‘ineffective’ and ‘weak’ in reducing high-risk drinking.”
Ian Twinn, ISBA’s director of public affairs, says: “The Committee appears to have fallen back on rather old and tired prejudices espoused by anti-alcohol campaigners, which bear little or no resemblance to the reality. The truth is that the advertising industry and our regulator, the ASA, positively support restrictions on the content of adverts, and where and when they can be displayed.”
Alcohol charities welcomed the report. Alcohol Concern, which has repeatedly called for restrictions on advertising, says in a statement: “We support the committee’s call for a review of the rules of alcohol advertising in order to protect children and young people. The committee make it clear that the Responsibility Deal which has been going for more than a year has not yet delivered. A review of the Deal should take place and it must not be a substitute for government policy.
The report backed the Alcohol Strategy’s proposal to include a minimum price per unit of alcohol, although called for the Government to remain flexible on the level it is set at, which should be “ monitored and adjusted over time”. It also rejected health lobby calls for a ban on supermarket multibuys as “neither desirable or workable”.
The Select Committee’s report will be passed to ministers for consideration. A consultation on the proposals contained in the Alcohol Strategy is expected later this year.