Should Alcohol Advertising be Banned From TV

Should Alcohol Advertising be Banned From TV?

I am an advocate of alcohol-free living but I have never really had a problem with other people’s choices regarding drinking, nor does being around alcohol bother me at all, but I was shocked by some of the in your face TV advertising that I recently experienced which led me to wonder, ‘should alcohol advertising be banned from TV?’

Maybe this is not the best time of year to be thinking about this or maybe it is. Festive adverts promoting booze are as traditional as Christmas itself and we come to expect them. However, as someone who doesn’t drink and has not seen English TV for years, the shameless advertising by retailers and drinks companies comes as quite a shock.

This blog has been inspired by my encounter with this year’s M&S festive food advert promoting their ‘Snow Globe Gin Liqueur’ full of Christmas ‘bling’ and sparkle served on the rocks, or as Amanda Holden suggested, topped with Prosecco.

There is no doubt that these adverts are successful in their mission, which is to get us to buy alcohol. I told my friend about the advert and she said it convinced her to buy the gin as presents because it looks so pretty (she’s not a drinker herself.)

The fact that the advert annoys me is obviously not reason enough to ban alcohol advertising from TV, but there are many more important reasons to support such a move.


The effects of alcohol on our health service

What annoyed me so much about this particular TV commercial was that the ad was sandwiched between a program about The Ambulance Service who spend 37% of their time responding to alcohol-related incidents and The North East Ambulance Service alone responds to an alcohol related incident every 17 minutes on weekend evenings. (source)

According to health professionals a key reason to ban alcohol advertising is because alcohol is a toxic substance and the commercials are promoting something which is really bad for us. It has a damaging effect on our health and also our behaviour resulting in injuries or accidents.

As many as 70% of people who turns up at A&E on Friday and Saturday night can be suffering from the effects of alcohol, while consumption of alcohol is estimated to cause 12% to 15% of all A&E attendances.  If you have ever been to A&E at these times you will have seen this for yourself. Many hospitals even have a permanent police presence in their A&E departments at the weekend to deal with abuse and violence caused by drunk patients. (source) 

the cost of alcohol to society

Alcohol costs the NHS £3.5bn a year and in 2017/18 there were 338 thousand estimated hospital admissions in England where the main reason for admission to hospital was attributable to alcohol

These are just some of the current issues that society faces due to alcohol consumption, but what about our young people who are targeted by alcohol companies as the next generation of drinkers?


Alcohol advertising and young people

There huge concern about the effect that alcohol advertising has on children and young people and perhaps the main reason why some people want to see a ban on TV advertising.

Alcohol adverts on TV are subtle, clever and contain messages which worryingly, can appeal to children. As we saw with Aldi’s festive TV advert featuring Kevin the Carrot, which was banned because of ‘its appeal to children’.

Currently there is no governmental policy in place to regulate alcohol advertising in the UK and  “All alcohol advertisements must adhere to the self-regulatory UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (CAP code), and the co-regulatory UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (BCAP code), that is overseen by Ofcom”  (source)

The fact that advertising is self regulated means that advertisers can and do ‘bend the rules’ in very subtle ways. Alcohol adverts must not be seen to have a certain effect on people such as to boost confidence, make individuals more attractive or suggest sex appeal. Adverts shouldn’t imply that alcohol can improve boredom or loneliness or have the effect of changing a person’s mood or behaviour. Extra care must also be taken to ensure that marketers do not work with celebrities or creators who appeal to younger people which surely must mean that whenever alcohol brands are featured as supporting sports events they are breaching this voluntary code of conduct.

Many advertisements use rock music, animation or appealing images which increase their popularity among younger viewers and alcohol adverts are shown to be the most remembered and a favourite with teenagers. (source)

Furthermore, I have never seen a TV commercial which shows people drinking and having a really bad time. All the images are of people socializing, laughing, enjoying themselves. You never see an ad for a drink that shows someone on their own at home drowning their sorrows or having a fight outside a pub or beating up their wife because they have been drinking. So even though the ad must not suggest that alcohol provides happiness, joviality, fun and improved social interaction – they obviously do. The images portrayed by alcohol advertisements clearly do not show the reality.

The only alcohol related advert showing one reality of excessive drinking is the one shown every year as part of the government campaign to reduce drink driving. However according to the Department for Transport. an estimated 9,040 people were injured or killed on Britain’s roads in 2016 in incidents where a driver was over the alcohol limit, this is an increase of 7% on the previous year.

While the government might say they are doing their bit by helping to promote awareness and educating people, the fact that you can watch an ad showing the dangers of drink driving alongside an ad promoting the very substance which is the very cause of the death or injury is just ridiculous.

Now if alcohol wasn’t a harmful drug then there would be no problem, but alcohol is an addictive substance with serious health consequences just like smoking, yet smoking advertisements have been banned on TV in the UK since 1965.


Comparison between tobacco advertising and alcohol advertising

In 1965 due to pressure concerning the health risks of smoking after a study funded by Cancer Research UK in 1958 linking smoking with lung cancer, the UK introduced a ban on tobacco advertising on TV. In just 15 years the smoking rates went down from 55% to 42% in men and 42% to 35% in women. (source)

This decline shows clearly that advertising does indeed have an impact on consumption, whether we believe we are influenced by advertising or not. This is backed up by a UK Government commissioned, review which found that “The balance of evidence supports the conclusion that advertising does have a positive impact on consumption.” (source)

Tobacco advertising was seen to promote smoking in general, especially to children and young people who couldn’t really relate to the difference in the brands but were given positive messages about smoking in general.  The same could be said for alcohol adverts.

How do you sell death?… They do it with healthy young people… – that’s the way they do it”.

To compare alcohol and tobacco advertising some more, Fritz Gahagan, a former marketing consultant for big tobacco, said of advertising tobacco in a BBC documentary in 1988: “The problem is how do you sell death? How do you sell a poison that kills 350,000 people per year, You do it with the great open spaces … the mountains, the lakes coming up to the shore.

They do it with healthy young people. They do it with athletes. How could a whiff of a cigarette be of any harm in a situation like that? It couldn’t be – there’s too much fresh air, too much health – too much absolute exuding of youth and vitality – that’s the way they do it”.

And Big Alcohol uses the same tactics to promote a product which is far more dangerous than tobacco. What’s the harm in showing people enjoying themselves at a festival or enjoying a beautiful moment on a lake shore, being amused by singing frogs, seeing breathtaking images of surfers with horses or seeing your favourite sportsperson clad in clothing from a famous brand of beer?

Yet just as no one has a whiff of a cigarette, no one just has one sip of wine or half a pint at the end of the week. How can there be any harm in situations like these? Yet alcohol kills more than 3 million people each year. (source)

If the government felt called to ban tobacco advertising because of the health risks, then why not do the same for alcohol advertising? The risks to our health because of drinking are far more serious than those caused by smoking.


The damage to our health caused by alcohol consumption

The effects of alcohol on health is clear. A recent report by published in the Lancet in 2018 said that , “there is no safe level of alcohol” Furthermore alcohol consumption is linked to diseases such as cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease, diabetes, and many more. (source)

should alcohol advertising be banned

It seems strange then that after reading the findings in the report co authored by Professor David Nutt and The Lancet, proving that alcohol is the most dangerous drug known to society the government refuses to take the same stance as they did with the advertising of tobacco. According to the report by professor Nutt, alcohol is considered the most harmful drug to the user and to others above heroin, crack cocaine and even above smoking yet tobacco advertising is banned and alcohol advertising is not.


It all comes down to Revenue

In 2019, the market value of alcoholic beverages is approximately 65 billion euros. with the UK government earning 11.6 billion pounds raised by taxes on alcohol in 2018. Therefore, because there is a direct correlation between advertising and consumption, the government worries that it would lose money on duty if alcohol adverts were banned on TV. However, the answer would be to raise taxes on alcohol just as they did with tobacco, which is also seen as a positive move among health professionals towards reducing the overall consumption of alcohol.

The drinks industry clearly knows the power of advertising and it is estimated that each year more than £800 million is spent on advertising alcoholic beverages in the UK.

Obviously then, the UK alcoholic beverage industry would not like to see such a move but many health groups including the World Health Organisation have called for alcohol advertising bans and/or greater restrictions to be introduced, such as those that are in place in France under the ‘Loi Evin’ which states that ‘no advertising should be targeted at young people, no advertising is allowed on television or in cinemas, and no sponsorship of cultural or sport events is permitted’.

While it is difficult to assess the effect on Loi Evin on overall alcohol consumption and alcohol problems, The World Health Organization has modelled the impact of an advertising ban applying this to the European Union finds an estimated 202,000 years of disability and premature death avoided. (source)


Possible further restrictions and policies

Current legislation in some countries means that only the product itself can be referred to as we see in the current Asda wines Christmas advert but even so, the fact that alcohol companies are specifically targeting the next generation of drinkers means they use other tactics such as edgy branding and catchy music to accompany their advert.

The republic of Ireland already has strict measures in place due to The Public health (Alcohol) Bill which was passed in December 2015. From November this year it is forbidden to have any advertising for alcohol on billboards, public vehicles, transport stops within 200 meters of a school, crèche or playground.

They also want to introduce health warnings on labels, they want to stop any form of advertising at sporting events and crucially tighter restrictions on when and how alcohol can be advertised in the media.

This new legislation would mean that advertisers cannot show ads promoting alcohol which have scenes with people, animals or pubs. Of course the drinks companies are not very happy with this and Patricia Callan of The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland said that these proposed changes will have a devastating effect on the drinks industry in Ireland and the small producers will have an especially hard time creating brand awareness. And, it’s not just the drinks industry who would feel the effects but also the media companies. One report suggested that the changes could result in the loss of 20 million a year in ad income.

A lobby group has made an edited version of the famous festive Guinness ad, to show the effect these changes would have on TV commercials. (source)

I do like the iconic Guinness adverts and how awful it must be for marketers to have to be more creative in their efforts if the bill goes ahead, I feel so sorry for them! Advertisers are extremely creative and would find a way to shift their style in order to accommodate these changes and still promote their product which is why a total ban on TV advertising is being actively promoted by health professionals.

Again the issue of money should be addressed. If a ban on alcohol advertising reduced the amount of alcohol consumed then that would have a ripple effect. Less money would have to be ploughed into our NHS and emergency services, as we have already seen that is 3.5 billion pounds a year. Of course the reduction in alcohol consumption would mean less revenue for the government on taxes but advertisers are not the only ones who can be creative when it comes to generating income.


The thing is, if alcohol were to come onto the market today it would be totally illegal.


♦ What other industry is allowed to promote a product that increases your risk of 7 different cancers?

♦ What other industry is allowed to promote a product that increases stress, anxiety and depression?

♦ What industry can advertise something that costs the NHS billions of pounds a year, and is responsible for 39% of all violent crime and incidents?

♦ What other industry can promote a product which kills 250 people a year in England and Wales because you drive after having taken it?

♦ What other industry can promote a product that kills over 3 million people a year worldwide?


How do you feel? Should alcohol advertising be banned from TV?


If you are considering removing alcohol from your life but finding it a challenge, check out the ‘Sober Bliss Program’ – Put yourself first.