UK Government Will Punish Irresponsible Alcohol Promos

17 March 2004

A crackdown on irresponsible alcohol promotions is promised by a new 100-page policy paper from the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit.

The document, Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy for England, not only threatens action against offending promoters but also requires Britain's beer and spirits industry to provide better information to consumers about the dangers of alcohol misuse.

It also outlines a social responsibility charter for drinks manufacturers. This proposes ...

• Advertising should neither condone nor promote irresponsible or excessive drinking;

• The inclusion of 'sensible drinking' messages on bottles;

• A pledge from drinks companies not to create products that appeal to underage drinkers, nor encourage people to drink over recommended limits;

• A new voluntary award scheme that will combine a code of good practice with a financial contribution from the alcohol industry to create a fund to tackle the problems caused by alcohol misuse.

Responsibility for policing the new strategy has been handed to the recently launched media supra-regulator Ofcom. But the document snubs call from campaigners -- among them the British Medical Association -- for a ban alcohol advertising.

Its absence triggered an almost audible sigh of relief from The Portman Group, the alcohol industry-funded campaigning body that promotes responsible advertising. Declared chief executive Jean Coussins: "I am pleased that the government can build on the good practice already in place among leading companies within the industry."

She wagged an admonitory finger, nonetheless: "The industry must do even more to deliver against the tough targets set out in the strategy or face government action."

But according to one social analyst, advertising is not -- and never has been -- the main culprit: "The Downing Street paper signally fails to address the main cause of anti-social drinking by young people," he complained.

"It is the proliferation across British towns and cities of calculatedly contrived club/pub disco environments dedicated to a single proposition -- the maximum consumption of alcohol in the shortest possible time. A majority of these environments are owned directly or indirectly by major brewers and liquor companies."

Data sourced from: BrandRepublic (UK); additional content by WARC staff