EDITORIAL: The figures don't add up for alcohol advertising critics

Yet again, the marketing industry has been forced into a defensive

position by suggestions that alcohol advertising and packaging should

carry health warnings. Not to react to such calls would be

foolhardy.



Yet to argue against them carries the danger that the industry could be

seen as 'anti-health' rather than 'anti-regulation'.



ISBA is quite correct in damning such proposals as "pointless" and

"unlikely to work", but its comments are unlikely to find a sympathetic

ear among pressure groups that believe advertising is the root of all

social ills.



Advertising has become the soft target for pressure groups involved in

sectors where excess consumption can cause health problems. Their case

has been helped by politicians, who are often far more comfortable

gaining publicity by attacking advertising than losing popularity by

proposing an outright ban on a product. Isn't it time for these critics

to cease the slurs and provide the proof?



Advertising bans and restrictions for alcoholic drinks are in force in

several European countries, and have been for years. At best for the

critics, the figures on consumption and health for those countries send

out a mixed message. In some instances, the restriction on advertising

has been accompanied by an unfortunate increase in total

consumption.



Figures on consumption and alcohol-related harm are widely available

through the World Health Organisation Europe's Alcohol Drugs and Tobacco

Unit. While no objective study on advertising and alcohol consumption

has been carried out, the evidence of some countries does not support

the anti-advertising argument.



In Sweden, Denmark and Finland, which all have near-total bans on

advertising alcoholic drinks, recorded consumption of alcohol has

remained stable or has increased over the period 1980 to 1995. In

France, which also enforces tight regulation on alcohol ads, recorded

consumption and alcohol-related deaths have fallen steadily from a much

higher base over the same period. If there were any shred of evidence

from those four countries for the would-be regulators to cling to it

would be France's performance. Yet the UK's consumption has also

remained stable over the same period, according to the WHO.



The fact that a voluntary code advertising of alcoholic products works

should come as no surprise. A multi-faceted approach to responsible

advertising, involving the ITC, Radio Authority, ASA and drinks industry

body the Portman Group has been effective in ensuring that ads do not

encourage excess or underage drinking.



Ads maintain or increase market share against rival drinks brands,

rather than increase overall consumption. It's a simple business truth,

but one that some evidently still need to hear.



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