Alcohol Focus Scotland report calls for ban on alcohol promotion

The report presents new research from SPECTRUM members at the Universities of Nottingham and Stirling

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.

Report recommendations

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:


Alcohol marketing can be massively triggering; it’s designed to be. Seeing an image of a cold beer on a warm sunny day or a midwinter glass of whisky in front of an open fire can be highly appealing. 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.

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. We only need to think of how easily we recognise brands simply from a distinctive colour or font to realise how powerful marketing is.

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 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.

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.