Should alcohol advertising be banned?

The call to ban alcohol advertising is not a new one.

But when the Director of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR) and Chair of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Professor Michael Good, calls for a ban on alcohol advertising it’s time again to sit up and listen. And he’s not alone…

As reported in the Courier Mail on 7th December – “surgeons have joined the push for the promotion of alcohol to face the same stringent controls as tobacco, saying risky drinking is more common”.

The effect of tobacco advertising bans combined with stringent legislation is well documented, resulting in significant reductions in smoking.

So, should the same consideration be given to alcohol?

There are substantial financial costs associated with excessive alcohol use through:

hospitalisations – direct health effects, victims of violence, car accidents etc.
the legal system – policing, court costs, imprisonment etc.
the cost for business – productivity loss etc.

It is estimated that alcohol misuse costs the Queensland hospital system $128 million a year1. This is just one State’s hospital system, let alone the costs to industry or the legal system.

Debate continues on whether alcohol directly contributes to domestic violence. What can not be disputed though is that perpetrators of domestic violence have consumed alcohol in at least 50% of cases. And whilst both sides of the fence use the same statistic to argue their case – alcohol is clearly a risk factor.

It could also be argued that alcohol advertising, and its prevalence in almost every aspect of our society and culture, is insidious.

A recent study2 has found that alcoholic drinks are the single most advertised product within a 250 metre radius of primary schools and children face up to 25 advertisements for alcohol per square kilometre.

The National Drug Research Institute’s director, Professor Steve Allsop, said the results of the study were not surprising and that “most (alcohol advertising) wouldn’t be directly targeted at young people, however it is ubiquitous, it’s everywhere”.

Professor Allsop also said there was good evidence the more that young people were exposed to alcohol advertising of any kind, the more likely they were to have positive views about it and the more likely they were to end up drinking alcohol in a risky way.

The study also revealed children on their way to school were five times more likely to see advertising of alcohol and junk food compared with healthy foods.

The location and prevalence of alcohol outlets are used as predictors of crime rates and are significantly related to malicious damage, assault and offensive behaviour.3 And new research has confirmed that an increase in the number of liquor outlets (hotels and/or bottle shops) is associated with an increase in alcohol-related violence and assault in the surrounding area.4

There is also little doubt that should alcohol advertising be banned there would be a resounding outcry from alcohol companies, outlets and sporting bodies, events and associations. Alcohol and sport is entrenched in our culture.

Alcohol companies are well represented in the top 40 sports sponsors and sports sponsorship in Australia is estimated to be worth more than $1.25 billion a year.

I am highly skeptical as to whether Governments will heed the advice and take the steps to ban alcohol advertising. Taxes on ‘alcopops’, curfews and heightened social marketing campaigns suggest there is an intent to address the problem but they are fighting a losing battle against the sheer saturation of alcohol advertising and endorsement that is apparent almost everywhere you look.

1 The Health of Queenslanders: Prevention of Chronic Disease, Queensland Health, 2008.
2 Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, NSW Centre for Overweight and Obesity, 2008.
3 The Impact of Alcohol Sales on Violent Crime, Property Destruction and Public Disorder, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics, 1996.
4 National Drug Research Institute, 2008

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