Mark Sweney guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 8 September 2009 10.30 BST Article history
The British Medical Association has called for a complete ban on alcohol advertising and marketing, from television advertising to the sponsorship of music festivals and football by drinks brands, as part of a nine-point plan to tackle problems including binge drinking by young people.
In a report published today called Under the Influence, about the damaging effect of alcohol marketing on young people, the BMA said that the £800m spent annually on promoting alcohol to consumers needed to be curbed to tackle drink-related problems in the UK.
The report claims that current controls on alcohol promotion, policed by the Advertising Standards Authority, are “completely inadequate” because they are based on voluntary codes that focus on the content and type of ads and not the volume of marketing. The first recommendation in the nine-point plan is to “implement and rigorously enforce a comprehensive ban on all alcohol marketing communications”.
“The alcohol industry uses its prodigious marketing skills and massive budgets to promote positive images about alcohol, and back these up with incentives, branding, enticing new products and sophisticated public relations,” said the BMA in its report.
“Arguably it is no surprise that young people are drawn to alcohol when £800m is spent promoting it every year, when advertising and (especially) sponsorship links it with their cultural icons on the football pitch and at music festivals,” the report added.
“Even in their control of content the rules are weak with, for example, prohibitions on advertising which associates drink with youth culture or sporting success sitting alongside alcohol sponsorship of iconic youth events like music festivals and premiership football.
“It is essential that all the UK governments move away from partnership with the alcohol industry and look at effective alternatives to self-regulation.”
The BMA also criticised initiatives such as Drinkaware, an industry funded but independent body that promotes alcohol awareness, as “serving the needs of the alcohol industry, not public health”.
Under the Influence recommends a mandatory system with an industry levy used to fund a “genuinely independent public health body”, which would conduct research, health promotion and give policy advice.
The BMA is also calling for further research into the sales practices of the alcohol companies, distributors and supermarkets.
Other actions in the nine-point BMA plan include looking to prohibit the development of products that either appeal to young people or are “particularly associated with problematic drinking”.
“Beyond marketing communications, companies use other integrated consumer marketing strategies including pricing, distribution and product design to develop and manage brands, and these also promote consumption,” said the BMA.
Yesterday the ASA published its third annual report into alcohol advertising compliance, which found that 99% of the marketing that comes under its remit cleared the advertising code.
“The BMA is ignoring all the evidence that advertising causes brand switching, not harmful drinking,” said David Poley, chief executive of alcohol industry trade body the Portman Group.
“A ban would not improve our drinking culture and could even be counter-productive. The University of Sheffield found it would create fiercer price competition which could actually increase overall consumption. Lasting social change can be achieved only through sustained education accompanied by proper enforcement of the alcohol laws.”
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