Alcohol consumption in the UK has increased rapidly in recent years, not just among young people, but across society. The population is drinking in increasingly harmful ways and the result is a plethora of avoidable medical, psychological and social harm, damaged lives and early deaths. As consumption has increased, so the market for alcohol has grown. In 2007, sales (including supermarket, off-licence, restaurant and bar sales) were high enough to put virtually every British adult over government guideline drinking levels. These sales are driven by vast promotional and marketing campaigns that dwarf health promotion efforts: the UK alcohol industry spends approximately £800m each year encouraging consumption of its wares.
Alcohol marketing communications have a powerful effect on young people and are independently linked with the onset, amount and continuance of their drinking. These come in many forms, from traditional advertisements on television through ubiquitous ambient advertising to new media such as social network sites and viral campaigns. The cumulative effect of this promotion is to reinforce and exaggerate strong pro-alcohol social norms. Current controls on alcohol promotion are completely inadequate because they are based on voluntary agreements and focused on content, rather than the amount of alcohol advertising. 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.