Simon Litherland, managing director of Diageo GB, owner of brands such as Smirnoff and Guinness, says: “We recognise that alcohol misuse is a matter of serious concern for us all, but we are extremely disappointed by the committee’s divisive approach. This report represents yet another attempt by aggressive sections of the health lobby to hijack alcohol policy-making. It seeks to marginalise the role of industry in helping to tackle the problem of alcohol misuse.
He adds that many of the population wide measures proposed by the Committee today (8 January) would punish responsible drinkers but do nothing to address the minority of problem drinkers.
“Over a third of alcohol is consumed by less than a tenth of the population, which clearly suggests that targeted interventions would be much more effective and appropriate.”
He says that proposals for minimum pricing, at 50p per unit and duty increases are based on the false notion that higher prices will reduce excessive consumption amongst those groups most at risk but there is little evidence to support this and the Committee itself was divided on the efficacy of this approach.
Litherland is also disturbed by the “disproportionate focus” on spirits and points out that the Committee’s recommendations on duty, were they to be adopted, could potentially double the price of a bottle Bell’s, the UK’s favourite Scotch whisky, to around £23.
“The draconian proposals on alcohol advertising and sponsorship lack a credible evidence base. They amount to an effective ban, which would have serious repercussions for the sports concerned, the media and advertising industries.
“Fundamentally, we believe that the committee has missed an opportunity to identify policies that will really make a difference. They have recommended blunt top down legislative solutions, which overlook the proven effectiveness of a partnership approach across a wide range of stakeholders, including industry.”
The drinks industry is working alongside The Drinkaware Trust on a £100 million five-year Campaign for Smarter Drinking initiative , which aims to change the current drinking culture in the UK.
Other bodies supportive of self-regulation in the marketing and promotion of alcohol have spoken out. The Advertising Standards Authority, which regulates all non-broadcast advertising says: “As a regulator the ASA is independent of both Government and industry… the UK’s advertising regulatory regime for alcohol is one of the strictest in the world. The ASA regularly upholds complaints against major companies, demonstrating that the mandatory Codes are strictly applied.
“It is difficult to see what the benefits of a fragmented regulatory system might be – the regulatory system for advertising is already quick and effective in responding to public concerns and having problem ads withdrawn.”
Paul Sullivan, marketing director at brewery Wadworth, says: “Alcohol is a cultural issue and needs to be addressed as such over a period of time. The management of the few who drink to excess and are responsible for anti social behaviour will not be through reduction in music sponsorship or public health adverts or back label messages, but grass roots education and sensible implementation of the licensing laws already in place. Clearly alcohol is the new tobacco and today’s research will be yesterday’s hokum.
“Marketing needs to be sensible in the way it portrays alcohol especially if we want our drinkers to treat our product sensibly. If the reality is that brands are truly the domain of the consumer rather than the marketer which is my understanding then the solution to the alcohol issue is the re-education of the consumer from an early age. Over control will lead to increased desire by the parties that aren’t supposed to have it and small clubs, teams, festivals and communities that operate at the bottom end of the marketing spectrum will suffer.”