U.K. Report Looks At Tougher Rules for Promoting Alcohol Brands

Government Committee Suggests Costs of Alcohol Abuse Merit Restrictions on Marketers

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Alcohol advertising is under increased threat in the U.K., thanks to a government report issued today that suggests the option of banning sponsorship by alcohol brands of sports and cultural events, and new restrictions on TV advertising.

A Commons health select committee (HSC), made up of a group of Members of Parliament, blamed the alcohol industry for the $4.7 billion that the effects of excess drinking cost the National Health Service every year, as well as the 1.1 million hospital admissions and 6,500 deaths attributed to drinking too much alcohol.

Stephen Dorrell, the chairman of the committee, accused alcoholic drinks companies of not taking the issue seriously enough. He said in a statement, "[Alcohol producers] should be doing something to bring those deaths down. They have to accept responsibility for the trade they carry on."

The report calls for a "serious examination" of the impact of France's Loi Evin, or Evin Law, passed back in 1991, which bans alcohol advertising on TV and in cinemas, and also prohibits alcohol brands' sponsorship of cultural and sports events.

The report also suggests that alcohol ads might be required to contain only factual information, and to appear only in media targeting adults.

Currently, alcohol brands sponsor many major U.K. sports events and teams, and TV commercials can air during programs or films as long as no more than 10% of the audience is under 18.

Alcohol companies are heavily criticized in the report, which said, "It is important that the alcohol industry comply in all respects with the principles of corporate social responsibility. They often appear to argue that advertising messages have no effect on public attitudes to alcohol or on consumption. We believe this argument is implausible. Those involved in advertising alcoholic products should accept that their advertisements contain positive messages about their products and that these messages are supported by considerable economic power."

The report was concerned with the effects of steady alcohol consumption, as well as binge drinking. It warned, "If the industry does not bring forward more substantial proposals than this it risks being seen as paying only lip service to the need to reduce the health harms caused by alcohol."

Anticipating the report, advertising groups had their responses ready today.

Ian Twinn
Ian Twinn

Ian Twinn, director of public affairs at the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, said, "Before we go jumping head first into what could be a disastrous move for U.K. [businesses] -- and one with no discernable benefits for the health of the nation -- we need to understand the wider societal implications of the HSC's recommendation by a body qualified to do so. We know of no evidence that would support the disproportionate banning of advertising alcohol."

Henry Ashworth, CEO of Portman Group, an industry-funded social responsibility body for alcohol producers, said in a statement, "All the available evidence seems to suggest that total advertising bans such as [France's] Loi Evin are not effective so we would very much welcome a definitive study in this area."

The report supported the government's plans to introduce a minimum price per unit on alcohol products, which are often used as a loss leader in supermarkets and sold at rock-bottom prices to attract customers.

The alcohol industry currently has a "responsibility deal" with the government, under which all its ads carry messages about responsible drinking. However, Mr. Dorrell said in the statement, "I don't think the drinks industry are entitled to brownie points for having engaged in the responsibility deal. It's part of the responsibility of being in a free society."

Mr. Twinn added, "The HSC appears to have fallen back on rather old and tired prejudices espoused by anti-alcohol campaigners, which bear little or no resemblance to the reality."

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