Campaigners want tougher regulation of alcohol adverts

By Dominic Hughes
Health correspondent, BBC News

image copyrightPA
image captionCampaigners say young people need protection from alcohol advertising

There should be stricter regulations on alcohol advertising because of its impact on children, campaigners say.

A survey of 800 primary school pupils showed many were more familiar with brands of beer than with leading brands of biscuits, crisps and ice-cream.

The study, by charity Alcohol Concern, showed young children were more familiar with Fosters than McVities.

But a UK drinks industry trade body said the research was misleading and that teen-drinking rates were falling.

A group of health charities surveyed more than 800 pupils at primary schools in England and Scotland and found many children recognised beer brands, particularly if they were associated with major sporting events.

For example Foster's lager was better known than the biscuit manufacturer McVitie's, crisp maker McCoys or ice cream company Ben and Jerry's.

Codes of conduct

The charities say existing codes of conduct around the advertising of alcohol are failing to protect children, and those exposed to alcohol marketing start drinking younger and drink more.

They are calling for the phased removal of alcohol sponsorship, for cinema advertising to be restricted to 18-certificate films and a TV watershed.

Tom Smith, the head of policy at Alcohol Concern, says there is public support for tighter regulation.

"This research shows just how many of our children are being exposed to alcohol marketing, with an even bigger impact being made on those children with an interest in sport.

"Children get bombarded with pro-drinking messages, when they turn on the TV, go to the cinema or walk down the road, and the existing codes are failing to protect them.

"We also know the public share our concerns, which is why we need urgent action from the government to make sure tighter regulations on alcohol advertising are implemented."

But a spokesman for the UK drinks industry body The Portman Group, which promotes sensible drinking, says official figures show drinking among young people is actually declining.

"This is yet another weak and misleading piece of research from Alcohol Concern, who choose to ignore the official government statistics that show underage drinking has been declining at an significant rate for the last decade.

"Alcohol sponsorship is already strictly controlled in the UK and drinks companies are required to actively promote responsible drinking as part of their sponsorship agreements.

"Bans on alcohol sponsorship do not reduce alcohol harms. In France, an alcohol sponsorship and marketing ban has been accompanied by two decades of increasingly harmful drinking among children and teenagers."

Sporting events

But some, like Prof Gerard Hastings, founder of the Institute of Social Marketing at the University of Stirling, have expressed concern over the link between sporting events and alcohol.

"This research shows that alcohol marketing is clearly making an impression on our children.

"Existing evidence shows that exposure to alcohol marketing leads young people to start drinking at an earlier age, and to drink more.

"As the 6 Nations rugby kicks off with Guinness as its 'official beer', thousands of children across the UK will once again see alcohol associated with a major sporting event."

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