Reducing harm caused by alcohol


Marketing unmasked: dispelling the myths and taking a stand

With Transport for London banning junk food advertising across London’s public transport network and the Scottish Government currently considering restrictions on the promotion and marketing of unhealthy foods, our thoughts turn to how alcohol marketing impacts on our children and what action can be taken to address this. 

This was the theme of the meeting of the Cross Party Group on Improving Scotland’s Health: 2021 and Beyond held on 20th February 2019.  At the meeting we heard from two speakers: Dr Nathan Critchlow (Institute for Social Marketing at the University of Stirling), who talked through research on exposure of alcohol marketing to children and young people and Vivienne MacLaren, chair of Scottish Women’s Football, who outlined their principled stance to reject offers of sponsorship from alcohol and gambling industries. 

Young people are regularly exposed to alcohol marketing

Dr Critchlow presented findings from the Youth Alcohol Policy Survey of over 3000 young people aged 11-19 years in the UK.  The survey revealed that young people are exposed to alcohol marketing on a regular basis: at least half of those surveyed saw the equivalent of one ad every day, while a third of under 18s saw the equivalent of two ads a day. Young people could also recognise alcohol brands, recalling, on average, around a third of the brands in the survey.  

 CPG Feb 2019 image 1

Exposure to alcohol marketing changes drinking behaviours and attitudes

Dr Critchlow explained that the effects of alcohol marketing come from cumulative exposure to all types of marketing, from the traditional forms such as TV advertising, product design, price offers and event sponsorship to the newer digital forms, such as social media, games, websites and sponsored content. 

CPG Feb 2019 image 2

The research found that young people’s exposure to alcohol marketing was associated with

  • susceptibility to drink in never drinkers;
  • brand identification;
  • increased consumption; and
  • higher-risk drinking.

Taking a stand against alcohol marketing in women’s football

Vivienne MacLaren, chair of Scottish Women’s Football spoke to the group about their decision to reject sponsorship offers from the alcohol and gambling industries. . 

The demographics of the players has been a huge influence on their decision.  There are currently almost 8000 female players registered, with 80% under 18 years old.  The experiences of, and feedback from, the players influenced the decision of SWF in declining alcohol sponsorship.  Over the past 5 years or so, there have been a number of issues with alcohol, including a tragic death of a 21 year old player.

In 2014, when funds were low, SWF were approached by an alcohol company with an offer of sponsorship.  They declined the offer because the board felt the partner didn’t fit with their approach.  Ms MacLaren explained that to them this was just common sense – why have a partner that’s pushing alcohol to children?  SWF want to partner with positive brands to help create a ‘clean sport’ and believe that they will get bigger commercial sponsors in time who can benefit their members in the long-term rather than those who are only interested in short-term investment. 

The need for positive role models for the players is also a driver for SWF.  Feedback from the younger players is that they don’t want to drink alcohol because they want to be the best, which means a healthy lifestyle.  SWF acknowledge that they have a responsibility to their members, which is why they are taking a stand against alcohol and gambling sponsorship in sport. They have a duty to help and encourage women and girls to play football and understand how to enjoy and live healthy lives. 

There is potential for action to protect children and young people

The policy context in relation to alcohol marketing is mixed across the UK and Ireland.  Although the UK Government has acknowledged that young people see alcohol marketing and that this impacts on their consumption, they are content with the current self-regulatory approach.  On the other hand, Ireland has recently introduced legislation on a range of measures to control alcohol marketing.

Scotland has the opportunity to be progressive in this area. The upcoming commitment in the Scottish Government’s Alcohol Framework to consult on measures to restrict alcohol marketing to protect children and young people is hugely positive and provides a chance to build on the evidence and the positive stance taken by SWF and take action. 

 Alcohol Focus Scotland, together with BMA Scotland, Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems and Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs are already building support via our pledge “I believe that alcohol marketing has no place in childhood. All children should play, learn and socialise in places that are healthy and safe, protected from exposure to alcohol advertising and sponsorship.”  We’re pleased to have the support of 40 organisations and the majority of sitting MSPs (70) representing all parties have signed up to our pledge below. If your organisation would like to sign up please get in touch with

CPG photo Feb 2019

Left to right: Ms Vivienne MacLaren, chair of Scottish Women’s Football; Kenneth Gibson MSP, CPG co-convener; Sheila Duffy, chief executive, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Scotland; Dr Nathan Critchlow, Institute for Social Marketing, University of Stirling; Brian Whittle MSP, CPG co-convener; and Alison Douglas, chief executive,  Alcohol Focus Scotland (AFS).