Reducing harm caused by alcohol


Scottish Government commit to further plans to restrict alcohol marketing

Today (30 November 2023) the Scottish Government has published analysis of the responses to the consultation on alcohol advertising and promotion held earlier this year. 

National alcohol charity, Alcohol Focus Scotland, welcomed the Scottish Government’s recognition of the international evidence on the harm caused by alcohol marketing and the commitment made by Minister for Drugs and Alcohol Policy, Elena Whitham, to consult on specific proposals to restrict marketing in Scotland, in 2024. 

The analysis of the consultation responses show that Public Health and Third sector organisations were consistently in favour of restrictions on alcohol advertising and promotion. While those with a commercial interest in promoting and advertising alcohol were mostly against the introduction of restrictions.  

In response to the publication, Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said, “We are surrounded by alcohol marketing in shops, on billboards, and when watching our favourite sports. So perhaps it’s not surprising that children as young as 9 years old show high levels of awareness of alcohol brands. We are failing to protect to protect them despite the clear evidence that exposure to alcohol marketing causes children and young people to start drinking earlier, to drink more if they are already drinking, and to drink at heavy or problematic levels.  

“Scotland is behind the curve. Many other countries already have a range of restrictions on alcohol marketing and some, like Norway and France, have been in place for many years. More recently, Ireland has introduced on displays in shops, advertising at public transport stops and stations and at sporting events, with further measures planned for next year. 

“It is encouraging that Scottish Government is committed to bringing forward specific proposals given the evidence that alcohol marketing causes harm. With a shocking 25% increase in alcohol deaths since 2020 Scotland needs to be doing all it can to prevent future health problems. Action is needed to protect our children and young people but also those with, or in recovery from, an alcohol problem. We also need to address how normalised alcohol consumption has become, with almost a quarter of us regularly drinking above recommended limits.  

“Good places to start would be by reducing the visibility of alcohol in shops, introducing restrictions on alcohol sponsorship of sports and events, and of adverts in outdoor and public spaces.  

“We must be guided by the international evidence of what works when it comes to improving public health, not swayed by the interests of companies whose profits rely on people drinking at high levels and recruiting the ‘heavy-using loyalists of tomorrow’”.  

The consultation also explicitly looked at the impact of alcohol marketing on children and young people and sought their views. The analysis includes a section outlining their responses and highlights the high levels of awareness they had of both alcohol and alcohol brands.  

Ewan Carmichael, youth activist said, “As a former member of the Young Scot Health Panel, I collaborated with young people across Scotland to help inform this consultation by Scottish Government. The common thread in what we found is the almost subliminal nature of much of the marketing, with young people often unaware what they were being marketed to.  

"Many young people felt manipulated by the tactics used by the alcohol industry including the use of bright colours or ‘fun’ flavours, and linking alcohol products to energy drinks, which primarily appeal to those under-18-year-olds. They called for action to prevent alcohol advertising in areas frequented by young people, such as on public transport or at stops and stations. In addition, they wanted clear health warnings on the front of alcohol packaging. 

"Young people expressed frustration at the clear lack of accountability of companies over breaches of the current self-regulatory guidelines on advertising and want to see alcohol marketing independently regulated. 

“The Scottish Government needs to consult directly with young people, and work with them collaboratively to not only legislate to restrict alcohol marketing, but to support those experiencing harm. I am hopeful that the new round of consultation in 2024 provides these seats for young people at the table.”