Labour shadow minister questions alcohol sports sponsorship

Shadow Public Health Minister, Luciana Berger has warned the sponsorship of sports events by alcohol brands is potentially harmful and the party wants to have a “debate” about the current rules around sponsorship.

Speaking at the Alcohol Concern Conference Wednesday morning (19 November), Labour MP Berger said the party wants to explore whether there is curently irresponsible promotion of alcohol via sponsorships.

“The main focus would be around promotion to young people and to children,” she said, adding that over the past 10 years deaths due to liver disease among the under 30 age group have risen by 112 per cent.

Berger believes sponsorships between brands such as Stella Artois and Wimbledon or Carlsberg and the Rugby Sevens create a link between alcohol and physical activity, a potentially harmful relationship she said the party would like to explore.

In order to help promote responsible drinking, the UK’s Portman Group, an industry-funded body, put forward a self-regulatory code on Alcohol Sponsorship on 31 January 2014.

The code claims there should be no suggestion that alcohol consumption contributes positively to a person’s sporting performance, and that any sportsperson endorsing an alcoholic drink must be over 25 and must not have a particular appeal to under 18s.

Though the code has been endorsed by the likes of the Rugby Football Union, Lawn Tennis Association and Premier League, involvement is purely voluntary.

Berger told Marketing Week after her presentation that although Labour currently has no specific changes in mind for regulation of alcohol if it wins the general election next May, it is looking to work with experts to examine how the industry is regulated and how codes could be improved.

“If anyone wants to feed into the discussion we’d be delighted to hear from them,” she says. “Until we face up to the problem of alcohol abuse, the cost to the NHS and to society will continue to rise.”

Meanwhile, during a panel discussion on alcohol and advertising preceding Berger’s speech, Professor Gerard Hastings of University of Sterling, claimed that powerful drink companies are not looking after public health. Hastings believes the only way to deal with the issue is to remove alcohol marketing altogether.

“With tobacco, we went down this road very simply and removed the marketing,” he says. “If we’re doing it for tobacco, why can’t we do it for alcohol?”

Dr. Eleanor Winpenny of think tank RAND Europe agreed, revealing research that shows that young people aged 10-15 are exposed to more alcohol advertising on television than adults.

“The best solution would be a complete ban on alcohol advertising,” she says. “In the meantime, we need to think about the next best solution and move from self-regulation to real regulation.”

Chante Joseph of the Youth Alcohol Advertising Council (YAAC), a group of young people who work to ensure alcohol-related ads are up to standard, says the current codes in place are weak.

“The system only works if complaints are made,” she says.

“The most effective way to make change would be to implement a punishment. I don’t know about completely removing alcohol marketing altogether, but if there was a real reason for companies not to target young people, they’d be less likely to.”

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