A “First Report” on alcohol recently published by the House of Commons Health Committee made sobering proposals for tighter controls on drink marketing, including a ban on alcohol brands sponsoring events if more than 10% of attendees are under 18. Jenny Reid reports.
Who: Commons Health Select Committee
When: 8 January 2010
Law stated as at: 31 January 2010
The House of Commons Health Select Committee (the "Committee") recently published a report relating to alcohol (the "Report").
The Report addresses a number of legitimate concerns relating to increasing alcohol use and abuse including ill health, minimum pricing, enforcement and licensing.
A further concern of the Committee, to which a discrete section of the Report is devoted, is the effect of marketing and sponsorship on the consumption of alcohol.
According to the Report, the total UK spend on marketing communications by the alcohol industry was estimated at £600-£800m in 2003. The Committee also reports that there is a growing trend away from traditional media, towards methods such as sponsorship, product tie-ins and placements, contests and sweepstakes, special promotions and new media such as text messaging to mobile phones and social network sites.
The particular concerns of the Committee which are addressed in the Report include the impact of advertising on young people; new media advertising such as viral marketing and social networking sites, in particular the lack of research into the effect of such marketing on young people; the sponsorship by alcohol companies of commercial and sporting events which are aimed at young people; and the supposed inadequacy of the current regulatory system.
The Committee consulted with a range of independent experts and representatives from various organisations, such as health professionals and university professors, the Premier League, supermarkets and industry bodies, and their findings can be summarised as follows:
1. the current regulatory system is failing to protect young people from the impact of alcohol advertising, which has led to health professionals calling for a ban. The Committee believe that the procedures and scope of the current regulation therefore need to be strengthened.
2. alcohol promotion should be regulated by an independent body, in a similar way to regulation in other fields such as financial services and professional conduct. The Committee also suggest that young people should be involved in the regulatory process as they are best placed to judge promotional communications, being the target audience.
3. The Committee believe that sponsorship is currently inadequately covered and suggest an extension of the regulatory codes. They discuss the increasing dominance of new media in the promotion of alcohol and the regulatory challenges it creates, including the problems associated with age controls and user generated content. They suggest that expert guidance should be sought on how to improve the protection offered to young people in this area.
4. The Report highlights the need to restrict alcohol advertising and promotion in places where children are likely to be affected by it. The Committee suggest:
4.1 billboards and posters should not be located within 100 metres of a school;
4.2 the introduction of a 9 o'clock watershed for TV advertising;
4.3 a restriction on alcohol advertising in cinemas to films classified as 18;
4.4 no advertising of alcoholic drinks by any means if more than 10% of the audience or readership is under 18;
4.5 no sponsorship of any event where more than 10% of the attendees are under 18;
4.6 more effective ways to restrict young people's access to new media which promote alcohol;
4.7 a ban on alcohol promotion on social network sites;
4.8 a requirement for age restrictions on any website which includes alcohol promotion, including corporate alcohol websites, together with expert guidance on how to make such age restriction controls more effective; and
4.9 a balance of alcohol advertising with public health messages, e.g. a requirement that for every 5 television adverts an advertiser funds one public health advertisement.
Why this matters:
The Report raises almost as many questions as it wishes to solve: there appears to be no rationale behind the 10% figure for no advertising or sponsorship and no suggestions as to why the current figure of 25% is seen by the Committee to be inadequate; how is it suggested that this will be policed; and is there a chance that a rule banning sponsorship of events where more than 10% of attendees are under 18 will lead to organisers restricting the access to such events for under 18s?
This ongoing debate into alcohol advertising and marketing combined with the wide range of interests and rights which need to be considered suggests that a change in the legal and regulatory environment for the marketing and advertising of alcohol will not happen overnight. Advertisers and marketers should nevertheless be prepared for a change, particularly with a general election looming. The current government may indeed wish to hurry certain laws through Parliament prior to the election and the different parties may even attempt to use this controversial subject to obtain the support of voters.
To view the Report in full, please see here.