28 June 2022
Alcohol Focus Scotland and a group of international experts are calling on the Scottish Government to introduce statutory restrictions on how alcohol is marketed in a bid to improve the health of people in Scotland.
In a new report, the experts highlight that the high visibility of alcohol marketing means we are constantly bombarded with positive messages about how drinking can enhance our lives. Marketing has become increasingly sophisticated and more difficult to avoid as alcohol companies invest millions of pounds in seeking to build long-term relationships between us and their brands.
A literature review and case study research, produced by SPECTRUM members from the Universities of Nottingham and Stirling, have been published alongside the report.
In Scotland more than a quarter of us are drinking at levels that place our health at increased risk and in 2020 we saw deaths from alcohol jump to the highest level since 2011. Research shows that exposure to alcohol marketing causes alcohol consumption.
The Scottish Government has taken bold steps to protect public health in the past, but if they are serious about tackling this public health emergency they cannot stop there.
The group’s recommendations to the Scottish Government include:
- Introducing statutory restrictions on alcohol marketing activities where it has powers to do so including outdoor and public spaces, the sponsorship of sports and events, branding of merchandise, and in print publications
- Ensuring such restrictions explicitly include all forms of brand marketing including identifiable fonts, straplines or colours (not just brand names).
- Making sure that alcohol displays and promotions in shops are only visible to those planning to browse or purchase alcohol
- Mandating the display of health information on all alcohol packaging
Almost half (48%) of people in Scotland support a ban on all alcohol advertising - with higher levels of support than opposition for this measure. Previous published polling shows around two thirds (62%) of people support restricting advertising, sponsorship, and promotion online and in outdoor and public spaces.
Introducing a ban on marketing in all areas where there are powers to do so - including outdoor advertising, and sport and event sponsorship - would significantly reduce people’s exposure to alcohol marketing which causes alcohol consumption. It would unplug a range of marketing channels and reduce the power of those that remain.
This would go some way to addressing the social norms which alcohol companies seek to build and reinforce through their marketing activity: that regular drinking is normal and desirable. These social norms affect us all and are among the strongest drivers of behaviour, contributing to the high levels of consumption and harm in Scotland.
But some groups are more affected, particularly children and young people, and people with or at risk of an alcohol problem.
Impact on those in recovery
New research from the University of Nottingham examines the evidence of the impact on people with an alcohol problem. Commissioned to inform the report, it reveals how this group have an increased susceptibility to alcohol marketing. Adverts foster positive alcohol-related emotions and thoughts which can trigger cravings.
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 is in long-term, abstinent recovery from an alcohol problem. He has also a worked with people in treatment and recovery settings. He said: