Reducing harm caused by alcohol


Young Scots show support for restrictions on alcohol marketing

Alexandra Taylor was a member of the YoungScot Health Panel and helped develop policy recommendations around alcohol marketing in Scotland. After her involvement in the Health Panel Alexandra used her experience of the topic for her disseratation as part of her MSc in Public Policy. Here she blogs about her time as a member of the#YSHealth panel and what her further research with young people across Scotland found.

In August 2019, the Scottish Government collaborated with Young Scot to create the Health Panel, a group of 20 young people from across Scotland. Their mission is to improve healthcare services and outcomes for young people in Scotland.

The ‘Alcohol Framework 2018: Preventing Harm’ states the Scottish Government’s aim to protect children and young people from alcohol-related harm, specifically by targeting alcohol marketing. Our first task, set by the Scottish Government Alcohol Harm Prevention Unit, was to develop policy recommendations concerning alcohol advertising in Scotland.

This was a completely new issue for me, and the information we were given was invaluable. As a team, we explored the topic through group discussions and sharing our own experiences of alcohol harms. We also considered evidence presented by academics and individuals working in alcohol harm prevention. This included Dr David Jernigan, a specialist in the field of alcohol advertising particularly concerning young people, Alison Douglas, the CEO of AFS, and Dr Eric Carlin, the Director of SHAAP. Speaking with these experts and seeing them actively engaging with what we were saying was an amazing experience. Young Scot panels are not box-ticking exercises; young people’s opinions actually matter. I felt valued, inspired both by the experts and by the other incredible and passionate young people around me, and so incredibly lucky to be part of the panel.

As a group, we came up with 25 policy recommendations which we divided into seven thematic groups: regulation, culture, campaigns, direct advertising, purchasing, merchandise, and packaging. Through a traffic-light system of cards, using red for ‘no’, orange for ‘needs work’, and green for ‘good to go’, we considered each of the recommendations in turn, re-wording and refining them, even if only one panellist had raised an orange card. As some panellists were unable to attend that meeting, everyone had the opportunity to review all the recommendations through our shared online platform, until we had a consensus.

In June 2020, I had just turned 26, reaching the maximum age for a Young Scot panel, and new panellists were being recruited, so I stepped down. However, thanks to Covid-19 and my MSc Dissertation, I was not quite done with YS Health. Covid-19 meant that the Health Panel’s original report launch scheduled for March was delayed, and I needed a whole new dissertation topic as my placement was cancelled. After spending so much time developing my knowledge of alcohol policy, realising just how much alcohol harms hurt Scottish society, and already missing the Health Panel, I had my dissertation title: Young Scots’ Attitudes Towards the Young Scot Health Panel’s Alcohol Advertising Recommendations. I knew that we had developed positive and impactful recommendations, but I wondered how other young people would view them, especially without the benefit of the information we had received.

Through an online survey which reached 115 young people in 11 Health Board areas, it was clear that we were mostly in agreement. Participants agreed with 19 of the 25 recommendations made by the Young Scot panel, from creating an independent regulating body for alcohol advertising (recommendation 2) to prohibiting alcohol marketing on billboards and posters near to schools, nurseries and playgrounds, and on public transport vehicles, stops and stations (recommendation 14). While participants were mostly neutral towards three of the recommendations and disagreed with a further three recommendations, my own further research suggests there is good evidence to support implementation of these recommendations too.

Given the existing evidence which highlights the potential of these recommendations to reduce the alcohol harms faced by young people, mostly by making alcohol advertising less appealing, I believe it is highly likely that if survey participants had been presented with this information they would have agreed with our recommendations. Public engagement with research is paramount.

I’m glad I chose to write my dissertation on this topic, because it was so positive to see that even without the research the YS Health Panel accessed, participants supported most of the recommendations, even stating that “I don't think alcohol should be advertised at all, just like smoking. Youth in particular have to be protected from making drinking alcohol a habit.” This shows that young people’s experience aligns with what the evidence base demonstrates, identifying the same issues that need to be improved and resolved. Alcohol advertising is harmful and should be restricted. A participant even stated that “Attractive packaging was a large factor that drew me to alcohol in the first place. If it had been less interesting I wouldn't have been interested”.

Earlier this month, some of the YS Health panellists met virtually with Maree Todd MSP, Minister for Children and Young People, and Joe Fitzpatrick MSP, Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing. Current panellists explained the reasoning behind the recommendations and I briefly presented my MSc research. Meeting the Ministers was so exciting, because they were both very encouraging and positive about our work, engaging with our discussions. It felt like the Ministers understand the value of involving young people in decision-making and that our recommendations matter. I hope our work has shown them, the Scottish Government, and other stakeholders how important regulating alcohol advertising is for the benefit of Scotland’s children, young people, and citizens.

The report was launched yesterday, and I am so proud of what the original team accomplished. None of it would have been possible without Ellie Snape, our dedicated Co-design Officer, and the wider Young Scot team, who provided a supportive atmosphere ideal for any young person to thrive in. Thank you for everything. I am looking forward to seeing what YS Health will achieve next.

Read the full YoungScot Health report here.


20 November 2020.