04 April 2023 News

Alcohol marketing restrictions are necessary

Alcohol marketing restrictions are necessary because standard alcohol marketing techniques increase alcohol consumption, which increases risk and harm.

Europe already has the highest levels of consumption and harm in the world with almost a million deaths a year in the region. The effect of persuading existing consumers to buy more, winning back lapsed customers and recruiting new consumers is predictable. Harm to alcohol consumers and to others will increase.

Marketing restrictions can play a key role in reducing harm which is why this policy measure is among the six priorities actions defined by the WHO in its European Framework for Action on Alcohol 2022-2025 to curb alcohol harm, alongside pricing and taxation, reduction of availability, alcohol labelling and health information, increased and improved health services’ responses and community action.  

Alcohol marketing is causally associated with the initiation of drinking and increased alcohol consumption and binge drinking. It is also linked to relapse among people recovering from alcohol consumption problems. For these reasons, statutory restrictions should be in place to protect citizens’ health and to reduce the heavy burden of alcohol harm on the healthcare system.

Marketing influences consumers’ buying decisions typically by tapping into their sense of identity, belonging, and aspirations. A wide range of channels are used for this including sports sponsorship, film and TV product placement, ads, outdoor presence, social media influencers, public relations, merchandise and retail placement and pricing. All help boost sales which is why the industry invests in them.  

Rather than inspiring a healthy lifestyle sport is used to market a harmful product because it is a route to a profitable mass audience, with sports viewing having a male bias and many children and young people. Viewers will often see an alcohol brand every few seconds. This poses particularly severe problems for vulnerable groups, such as young people and people in recovery.

Alcohol marketing restrictions should also apply to low and no alcohol products. The industry promotes alcohol-free brands almost identical to alcohol brands to deflect criticism. This promotes the alcoholic product as much as it does the alcohol-free one, which is typically a contributor of less than 1% of total sales. Moreover, where alcohol advertising bans exists, like in France, it is common to see alibi brands which alcohol brands through their look and feel without mentioning the name.  

Self-regulation is often seen as a solution, but the alcohol, media and advertising businesses cannot regulate a business they profit from. The conflict of interest is plain. Only the government can regulate effectively. A few European countries are considering the issue, notably Germany and Belgium, and others have already acted. Estonia and Lithuania prohibited all outdoor advertising of alcohol since 2018, so joining Norway. Austria, Bulgaria, Finland, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, and Switzerland have strength-based TV restrictions.

Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, and Ukraine have implemented watershed restrictions.   In France, Iceland, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden, and Turkey TV ads are banned or tightly restricted. Lithuania introduced a total prohibition on alcohol ads in print media in 2018. The Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Ireland, Norway, Poland, Slovenia and Sweden restrict print media.

Eurocare hopes more policy makers in Brussels and across Europe will see the benefit of effective statutory regulation of alcohol marketing. It serves the broad public interest not a narrow commercial interest, so supporting healthier more productive lives. The science clearly shows that less is better. Citizens should not be willingly misled into thinking otherwise.

Show me the science
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