On 8 January 2010, the House of Commons Health Committee published a cross-party Report on alcohol, addressing concerns over the rising level in recent years of alcohol consumption and its consequences. The overall position of the report is that the current system of controls on alcohol advertising and promotion is failing the young people it is intended to protect.

MARKETING AND THE DRINKS INDUSTRY

The Report states that current controls do not cover adequately sponsorship or new media, which are becoming increasingly important in alcohol promotion: the amount companies spend on internet marketing is now greater than traditional print advertising. Tighter controls are therefore needed and regulation must be extended to address better sponsorship. The Report states that new media presents particular regulatory challenges, including the inadequacy of age controls and the problems presented by user generated content.

REGULATORY CODES

The Health Committee considered that even if the regulatory codes, in particular the Committee of Advertising Practice and Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice Codes and the Portman Group Code of Practice, were followed, it does not mean necessarily that advertising does not encourage people to drink, especially young people.

The regulatory bodies stated that guidelines on alcohol marketing are robust and content, scheduling and placements rules, strict. The Advertising Standards Authority, however, did concede that the regulations on “new marketing” (e.g., text messaging, social network sites etc.,) are lax and need tightening.

In relation to sponsorship, the report’s specific focus is football. In its submissions to the Committee, the Premiership defends its involvement with alcohol sponsors and claims to operate in a socially responsible manner, stressing that it complies with the Portman Group Code and does not test the boundaries of the related codes or lobby for change.

CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The Report recommends that the regulation of alcohol promotion should be completely independent of the alcohol and advertising industries. The Committee adds that it thinks that young people should themselves be formally involved in the process of regulation since the best people to judge what a particular communication is saying are those in the target audience.

The Report states that because current controls do not adequately cover sponsorship the codes must be extended to fill this gap. It also suggests that expert guidance should be sought on how to improve the protection offered to young people in the increasingly dominant area of new media.

Finally, the report underlines a “pressing need” to restrict alcohol advertising and promotion in places where children are likely to be affected by it:

  • Billboards and posters should not be located within 100 metres of any school.
  • A 9.00 pm watershed should be introduced for television advertising.
  • Cinema advertising for alcohol should be restricted to films classified as 18.
  • No medium should be used to advertise alcoholic drinks if more than 10 per cent of its audience/readership is under 18 years of age.
  • No event should be sponsored if more than 10 per cent of those attending are under 18 years of age.
  • There must be more effective ways of restricting young people’s access to new media that promote alcohol.
  • Alcohol promotion should not be permitted on social networking sites.
  • Notwithstanding the inadequacies of age restrictions on websites, they should be required on any site which includes alcohol promotion.
  • Alcohol advertising should be balanced by public health messaging.

COMMENT

The Report has attracted criticism from, amongst others, members of Parliament, economic commentators and the European Sponsorship Association (ESA). The ESA argues that propositions made in the report are unworkable, in particular the 10 per cent recommendation, which it considers

…will be tantamount to a blanket ban on alcohol sponsorship, as it is inconceivable to accurately assess which events count less than 10% of children amongst their audience. As a result, and in order to maintain the essential funding provided by their alcohol sponsors, clubs could seek to restrict access to anyone under the age of 18, thereby having significant negative social impact.