Alcohol is a “part of the fabric of daily life in Scotland”, a group campaigning for more stringent laws on advertising has claimed.
The group carried out surveys with people and families personally harmed by alcohol, looking at the presence and visibility of products in their homes, communities and online spaces.
Established by Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs (SFAD), the Alcohol Action Group found “constant exposure” to alcohol, and that it is “all around” as “part of the fabric of daily life” in the country.
Members of the group recorded each reference to alcohol they noticed in one day, as they carried about their daily activities.
“It’s never seen as an issue when alcohol is promoted – yet there would be outcry if cigarettes still had the same prevalence now as they once did.”Group member, Alcohol Action Group
This included anything that included or referred to alcohol, such as direct advertising, branding, alcohol products, and alcohol-themed merchandise such as birthday cards and gifts.
Although participants only spent an average of between one and two hours recording their observations for the survey, each identified more than ten references to alcohol on average during this period.
One group member said: “I know people talk about having freedom of choice, but the advertising of alcohol is so ‘in your face’ that anyone who has alcohol problems or is in recovery never gets a break from seeing this constant push for everyone to drink alcohol.”
The survey was carried out during the Covid-19 pandemic when lockdowns and restrictions were in place, with the group noting increased online references to alcohol as a coping strategy on social media posts, jokes and memes, as well as increased consumption within their own social networks.
“The advertising of alcohol is so ‘in your face’ that anyone who has alcohol problems or is in recovery never gets a break from seeing this constant push for everyone to drink alcohol.”Group member, Alcohol Action Group
The majority of research participants believed people were drinking more than before the pandemic and that alcohol was causing more harm, with only one person of the opinion that people were now drinking less.
100% of participants felt alcohol products should include health warnings, with strong support for restrictions on alcohol advertising, marketing and access.
Group members shared some of their own experiences about alcohol everywhere, including the challenges of organising alcohol-free events, the impact of Covid-19 and lockdowns on drinking patterns, and how difficult it is to avoid alcohol in daily life.
One said: “I recently had a big birthday myself and asked friends what they would like to do.
“I had told them that I didn’t want an event in a pub or a cocktail night, and it was disheartening to see the response and a number of people dropping out before I had even said what I was going to do.”
“There’s too much advertising that promotes alcohol as a way to relax, reduce stress and have fun or as a way to reward yourself for working hard or achieving a goal”, said another.
“Alcohol advertising implies that social occasions or holidays require alcoholic drinks in order to be enjoyable.”
“It’s casually slipped into film and TV in product placements; it’s never seen as an issue when alcohol is promoted – yet there would be outcry if cigarettes still had the same prevalence now as they once did. It’s strange to think we can banish the cigarettes, but alcohol is the done thing and few bat an eyelid.”
“Alcohol advertising implies that social occasions or holidays require alcoholic drinks in order to be enjoyable.”Group member, Alcohol Action Group
The Alcohol Action Group wants to use these research findings to change the way alcohol is labelled, marketed, advertised and sold, and to create more alcohol-free spaces for families to enjoy.
“This research confirms that alcohol products, branding and merchandise appear absolutely everywhere you look in our homes and communities,” said Justina Murray, CEO of SFAD.
“The people who carried out this research – many of whom have been personally harmed by alcohol – didn’t need to make any great effort to find alcohol references.
“Alcohol is ‘In your face’, no matter where you look. We can see that there is no part of Scottish daily life which is alcohol-free.
“Alcohol has been normalised to such an extent that we are now in a state of collective denial about the harm it causes to our families and communities.
“We want to see strong action on labelling, marketing, advertising and access to alcohol, with alcohol-free spaces becoming the norm – not the exception.”