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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Raise Your Glasses? Problems in Britain

Some blog readers are not going to like the latest news from Great Britain about alcohol and advertising. Get the issues straight. This information is not about legislating prohibition in the U.K., but about drinking alcohol in moderation and about the influence of advertising to produce more consumption of the product. One special concern is alcohol use by youth, but Great Britain wishes to see a drop in excess across the board.

The Proposed British Ban on Alcohol Advertising

British doctors called for a ban on alcohol advertisements Tuesday, saying the move was necessary to challenge Britain's dangerous drinking culture.

From Fox News and the Associated Press comes a report of something American drinkers fear may happen in America. The statement reads, "The British Medical Association argued in a report that a rapid increase in alcohol consumption among young Britons in recent years was being underpinned by 'clever alcohol advertising' and that a prohibition on alcohol-related publicity was needed to help turn the situation around. ( September 08 2009)

"Our society is awash with pro-alcohol messaging and marketing," Dr. Vivienne Nathanson, the association's head of science and ethics, said. The association represents more than two-thirds of Britain's practicing doctors, and it has repeatedly warned of the dangers of the country's increasingly deadly drinking habit.

In a report last year, the association said Britain was among the hardest-drinking countries in Europe and noted its alcohol-related death rate had nearly doubled between 1991 and 2005 — from 6.9 to 12.9 per 100,000 people.

Between 1992 and 2006, household expenditure on alcoholic drinks increased by 81 per cent, the British Medical Association said.

The report claims current controls on alcohol promotion, policed by the Advertising Standards Authority, are "completely inadequate," because they are based on voluntary codes that focus on the content and type of ads, and not the volume of marketing. (Yahoo Canada News, September 08 2009)

Although the group has lobbied for higher taxes and stricter regulation in the past, its new report called for a total ban on all alcohol advertisements. The report specifically called for the drinks industry to be banned from sponsoring sporting events like the FA Cup — currently backed by Danish brewer Carlsberg — and the Grand National race — whose title sponsor is John Smith's Ale. It also said alcohol ads should be wiped from newspapers and billboards and kicked off radio and television.

Raphael G. Satter correspondent to ABC News reported, "Britain's government would not be drawn on the idea of an ad ban. The Department of Health said in a statement that 'it's not always right to legislate,' while the Advertising Standards Authority said its codes were already 'among the strictest in the world.'"

Professor Ian Gilmore, head of the Royal College of Physicians said, "Britain should follow the French example where there is no broadcast advertising of alcohol and no alcohol sponsorship of sport. The country has seen a fall in drinking levels - in contrast with Britain, where figures show an explosion in consumption." (London Evening Standard, September 09 2009) Professor Gilmore also added that he is not a teetotal and is not calling for prohibition.

What About Advertising and Alcohol?

On a site maintained by Professor David J. Hanson, PhD. of the Sociology Department of the State of New York, Hanson offers finding after finding to confirm the consensus among researchers that ads do not increase alcohol consumption. Among other studies, he cites work by the Federal Trade Commission, a United States Senate subcommittee, and The United States Department of Health and Human Services founding Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. ("Alcohol: Problems and Solutions," www2.potsdam.edu, 2007)

Henry Saffer's, PhD., findings ("Alcohol Advertising and Youth,"National Bureau of Economic Research, 2002) indicate that increased counteradvertising, rather than new advertising bans, appears to be the better choice for public policy to reduce the alcohol consumption of teenagers and young adults of college age.

Recent studies on the matter of alcohol advertising and its true effects on adults seem to be sorely lacking. Surely, the results could not be all that positive as any increase in consumption is detrimental in the eyes of health organizations.

The Problem of Underage Drinking and Advertising

As we all know, the consequences of underage drinking are real and tragic. Alcohol use plays a substantial role in all three leading causes of death among youth - unintentional injuries (including motor vehicle fatalities and drownings), suicides and homicides.

In a study in the States, the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (September 9, 2009) reports, "With the notable exception of wine... young people under the legal drinking age of 21 were a major target audience for the industry's magazine advertising in 2001, despite the industry's claims to the contrary. Here is a summary of findings confirming youth saw more magazine ads on beer and ale, and distilled spirits. (Sources: CMR 2001, MRI Teenmark 2001, MRI Adult Study Spring 2002)

1. Marketers of beer and distilled spirits brands delivered more advertising to youth than to adults in magazines in 2001 - 45% more for beer brands and 27% more for distilled spirits brands.

2. Marketers of low-alcohol refreshers, the so-called "malternatives" such as Smirnoff Ice, delivered 60% more advertising to youth than to adults.

3. Underage youth saw nearly as much advertising as young adults ages 21-34. Adults ages 35+ were a distant third audience.

4. More than half of the money spent on alcohol magazine advertising was in 24 magazines with youth audiences that exceeded 15.8%, the percentage of youth 12-20 in the U.S. population age 12 and over. In fact, twenty-five brands placed all of their magazine advertising in youth-oriented magazines.

The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth also found, "Youth (ages 12 to 21) exposure to alcohol advertising on television has risen by 38% since the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth began monitoring this exposure in 2001.

In 2007, approximately one out of every five alcohol advertisements was placed on programming that youth ages 12 to 20 were more likely per capita to see than adults of the legal drinking age. Almost all of these placements were on cable television, where distilled spirits companies in particular have dramatically increased their alcohol advertising in the past seven years." (Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University and Virtual Media Resources of Natick, Massachusetts)

Add to this fact from the findings: between 2001 and 2007, alcohol companies aired 73,565 "responsibility" advertisements on television. Youth ages 12 to 20 were 22 times more likely to see an alcohol product advertisement than an alcohol-industry-funded "responsibility" advertisement.

A Closing Thought From One Reader

In a comment to Metro.co.uk news, Mandi from Manchester expressed this view:

If we're going down this route we need to do the following too: > Ban food ads - obesity is rising, premature death etc. > Ban car ads - car accidents are also rising > Ban video game ads - video games make people violent > Ban music ads - music makes people violent In fact, why not just ban TV and all forms of everything else and lock people up on their own in padded white rooms for all their life?! That's where we're heading.

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