The Real Scoop About Alcohol Advertising

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Advertisers are still finding ways to promote alcoholic products to young people. The studies authors are reporting that companies are “pushing boundaries” of the advertising code. The alcohol industry seems to sidestepping advertising rules by targeting young people, implying that drinking will bring friends and fun, and making light of drunkenness, according to an analysis for the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published today.

Professor Gerard Hastings and his researching team studied four themes that are banned by the advertising code of practice, such as appealing to under-18s and encouraging irresponsible drinking, as well as sponsorship and new media.

"Upcoming generations represent a key target for alcohol advertisers," the research states. "Although the documents mainly refer to this group as starting at the legal drinking age (18 years), this distinction is sometimes lost. Thus market research data on 15- and 16-year-olds is used to guide campaign development and deployment, and it is clearly acknowledged that particular products appeal to children (Lambrini, for instance, is referred to as a 'kids' drink').

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The industry code states clearly that advertising must not appeal strongly to people under 18 or be associated with, or reflect, youth culture. Campaigns work diligently to be associated with youth, say Hastings and colleagues. "Smirnoff Ice wants to become the most respected youth brand” New media outlets such as Facebook and other social networking sites are being used because of their youth appeal.

The analysis drew a furious response from the industry. Alcohol company Diageo GB claimed the article was a gross misrepresentation and a distortion of the evidence it provided to the inquiry. Its managing director, Simon Litherland, argued that "inappropriate consumer views and early proposals.”

He stated, "We are extremely disappointed that the confidential and commercially sensitive information shared with the committee, in good faith, has been made available for Prof Hastings's use in pursuing his own public agenda.”

The authors of the study suggest that regulation should be independent of alcohol and advertising industries and that all such advertisements should be pre-vetted. The BMJ deputy editor Trish Groves stated “It is time to put away the rhetoric, popular with the drinks industry, that alcohol misuse is largely an individual problem best avoided and managed through education, counseling and medical treatment.” She went on to conclude, “Instead, the UK needs to embrace the idea that the health and societal costs of alcohol misuse are best prevented through legislation on pricing and marketing.”

Alcohol advertizing is widely used in the USA and research in the United States has documented similar findings.

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