Health Committee recommends statutory regulation of alcohol promotion

The alcohol and advertising industries have been warned of an overhaul to the advertising regulations – with the possibility of a complete ban on advertising alcohol on TV.

In a report published today, 8 January, the cross-party Health Committee calls for the introduction of minimum pricing per unit of alcohol – a move which industry says would “encourage producers to intensify their marketing”.

Any move to implement a minimum price must come hand in hand with tighter regulation on the marketing of alcoholic drinks, the Committee concluded.

The reports suggests that the current system of controls on alcoholic promotion and advertising is “failing to protect the young people it is intended to protect”, with “quantity rather than the content” the real issue.

One of the Committee’s principal recommendations is for the regulation of alcohol promotion to be “completely independent of the alcohol and advertising industries”. This could bring the role of the ASA – the Advertising Standards Authority – and The Portman Group under scrutiny.

Experts interviewed for the report provided evidence and experience that suggest self-regulation implemented by advertising, media and alcohol producers “does not prevent the types and content of marketing that impact on younger people”.

Recommendations therefore include cinema advertising being restricted to films classified as 18, plus a ban on advertising or sponsorship of events if more than 10% of the audience are under 18 years of age.

The expansion of non-broadcast advertising through social networking sites and viral marketing was identified as a particular issue. Age controls on websites, for example, are viewed as “inadequate”.

Asked to review the current system, Professor Gerard Hastings, director of the Institute for Social Marketing, concluded that there were “major shortcomings” in the current self-regulatory codes covering alcohol advertising, which do not even attempt to address sponsorship. The result is a regulatory system that “is impossible to police and vulnerable to exploitation”, he says.

Speaking to Marketing Week, Labour MP and Health Committee member, Stephen Hesford, says that while this report didn’t expose the advertising and alcohol industries as “a group of bastards” – as was the case with tobacco – he believes that “we’ll be back here in five years’ time and there will be statutory regulation”.

This could even go as far as countries like France where all alcohol advertising on television and billboard has been banned. Currently, the Committee’s recommendation is for a nine o’clock threshold for television advertising.

Rae Burdon, chief operating officer of the Advertising Association says the “severe” recommendations of the Committee (see box below) will be “damaging and ineffective”.

“We believe the system of advertising regulation is robust. “These severe restrictions will not deliver the health benefits or the protection of young people the Committee seeks: their only effect will be severely to damage media, brand-owner businesses and sporting events.”

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