Calls to ban all alcohol promotion 'in bid to improve Scots health'

A new report has highlighted the visibility of 'increasingly sophisticated' alcohol marketing.

Campaigners have called for a ban on alcohol sponsorship of concerts, festivals and live sport in a bid to improve Scots’ health.

Alcohol Focus Scotland and a group of international experts are urging the Scottish Government to introduce restrictions on marketing in all areas where there are powers to do so – including outdoor and public spaces, branding of merchandise, and in print publications.

A new report from the alcohol charity highlights the high visibility of “increasingly sophisticated” alcohol marketing.

It comes as over a quarter of Scots are drinking at a level which places their health at increased risk. In 2020, deaths from alcohol jumped to their highest level since 2011.

The group are recommending the Scottish Government introduces statutory restrictions on alcohol marketing activities where it has powers to do so and ensure that such restrictions explicitly include all forms of brand marketing.

They also recommend that alcohol displays and promotions in shops are only visible to those planning to browse or purchase alcohol and are asking for the display of health information on all alcohol packaging to be mandated.

The group’s research states that 48% of people in Scotland support a ban on all alcohol advertising, with previous published polling showing that around two thirds of Scots support restricting advertising, sponsorship, and promotion online and in outdoor and public spaces.

New research examining the evidence of the impact on people with an alcohol problem commissioned to inform the report, revealed how children and young people, and people with or at risk of an alcohol problem have an increased susceptibility to alcohol marketing. 

People in recovery from alcohol problems also shared their experiences of receiving a constant barrage of adverts for alcohol and how this threatens their recovery.

Tom Bennett, a member of the alcohol marketing expert network who is in long-term, abstinent recovery from an alcohol problem, and worked with people in treatment and recovery settings, said: “Alcohol marketing can be massively triggering; it’s designed to be.

“Yet the message these images convey, that alcohol is life enhancing, is at odds with the health risks. 

“Alcohol marketing invades your personal space making it impossible to get away from. For someone experiencing problems with alcohol it can put your recovery at risk. 

“Our right to health is being compromised by the actions of companies who put their profits over our health and wellbeing. If countries are serious about protecting and promoting the rights of their people – as Scotland prides itself on being – they must act to restrict alcohol marketing.”

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, added: “The current self-regulatory approach to alcohol marketing is failing to protect people and has led to our communities being wallpapered with promotions for a product that harms our health. 

“Children and young people tell us they see alcohol everywhere, all the time and they worry that adverts make alcohol seem cool and exciting. People in recovery talk of how marketing jeopardises their recovery. But all of us are affected and this has to change.  

“People don’t just have a need to be protected from alcohol marketing, they have a right to be protected.  A number of other countries have already imposed bans on alcohol marketing and the Scottish Government has committed to consulting in the autumn. 

“If we want to create a more positive culture where everyone can realise their right to health, the Scottish Government must use Scotland’s full powers to restrict alcohol marketing.”

The Scottish Government minister for public health, Maree Todd said: “I welcome this report from an international group of experts and will study carefully its detailed findings and recommendations.

“I am determined to tackle the harmful impacts that alcohol marketing can have on children and young people, as well as the triggering effect it can have on heavy drinkers and those in recovery. We intend to consult on a range of potential alcohol marketing restrictions in Scotland later this year.”

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