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Report examines the damaging effect of alcohol marketing on young people

07 September 2009. Faced with the continuously rising number of alcohol-related illnesses and deaths, especially among young people, the doctors demand a prohibition of all types of marketing campaigns launched by the alcohol industry. This should include the ever-growing branch of indirect marketing, as for example through the sponsorship of sport teams or events, which is seen to ‘normalise' the consumption of alcohol and equate it with other foodstuffs.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has released a report that examines the damaging effect of alcohol marketing on young people. The aim of the report is to identify effective ways of protecting young people from the influence of alcohol promotion and marketing, thereby redressing the excessively pro-alcohol social norms to which they are exposed.

Alcohol consumption in the UK has increased rapidly in recent years, not just among young people, but across society. The population is drinking in increasingly harmful ways and the result is a range of avoidable medical, psychological and social harm, damaged lives and early deaths. As consumption has increased, the market for alcohol has grown substantially. This has been driven by vast promotional and marketing campaigns with the UK alcohol industry spending approximately £800m annually.

Alcohol marketing communications have a powerful effect on young people and come in many forms. These include traditional advertisements on television through ubiquitous ambient advertising to new media such as social network sites and viral campaigns. The cumulative effect of this promotion is to reinforce and exaggerate strong pro-alcohol social norms. Beyond marketing communications companies use integrated consumer marketing strategies including pricing, distribution and product design to develop and manage brands. Stakeholder marketing, including partnership working and industry-funded health education, is also used by the alcohol industry as a means to influence policy makers and regulators.

The BMA also affirmed its calls for minimum prices for alcohol, including a prohibition of rebate promotion activities such as happy hours, an increase in tax on alcohol, and the scaling down of licensing hours.

While the Department of Health is showing its willingness to adopt a law on minimum prices, it also highlights the non-legislative activities such as the ‘Know Your Limits' campaign as an effective intervention on drinking habits and remains reluctant to adopt binding regulations on other issues. Further opposition to the BMA's demands is met in the Wine and Spirit Trade Association which points to the impact such bans would have on the labour market and the success of industry-funded campaigns with are already in existence.

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