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MPs square up to drinks marketers with hard-hitting report

An influential group of MPs has called for stricter rules around alcohol marketing and slammed the industry’s ‘Responsibility Deal’ efforts.

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In a blow to alcohol marketers, the health committee’s report on the Government’s Alcohol Strategy included a number of recommendations aimed at tightening up the rules governing drinks advertising.

It praises TV advertising restrictions, which prevent ads around programmes with a particular appeal to children, and calls for the approach to be extended to cinema advertising.

"Serious consideration should be given to reducing to 10% the proportion of a film’s audience that can be under 18 and still allow alcohol to be advertised, or to prohibiting alcohol advertising in cinemas altogether except when a film has an 18 certificate," the report says.

The introduction in the UK of Loi Evin, a tough regulatory framework used in France to govern alcohol marketing, deserves to be given "serious merit".

MPs poured scorn on drinks brands’ argument that they advertise primarily on the grounds of enhancing brand preference.

"Those speaking on behalf of the alcohol industry often appear to argue that advertising messages have no effect on public attitudes to alcohol or on consumption. We believe this argument to be implausible," it says.

The cross-party group of MPs were also dismissive of the drinks industry’s work so far on the Responsibility Deal backed by the coalition Government. Citing a pledge to reduce the strength of some lagers from 5% to 4.8%, the report says: "If industry does not bring forward more substantial proposals than this it risks being seen as paying only lip service to the need to reduce the health harms caused by alcohol."

MPs were also critical of drinks brands ‘claiming credit’ for acting responsibly.

"It’s not something they should be lauded for doing because it’s voluntary…I don’t buy into that argument at all," said committee chair Sir Stephen Dorrell at the launch of the report.

The committee supported the plan to bring in minimum pricing for the industry outlined by the government earlier this year but came out against the plan to ban multi-buys, saying that this was not supported by a good evidence base.

The implementation of plain packaging, however, appears to be a non-starter. ‘I wouldn’t say it’s dead in the water but it’s not something that we recommended,’ said Sir Stephen.

Marketing and drinks bodies rejected the findings. Portman Group chief executive Henry Ashworth said: "Whilst we are pleased the committee commends the Responsibility Deal approach, it is deeply disappointing that they have failed to understand the significance of the innovative unit reduction pledge, supported by all major producers, retailers, and leading wholesalers who have committed to lower the alcohol content of leading brands, and introduce new ranges of lower alcohol products."

Ian Twinn, the public affairs director of advertiser body ISBA, accused committee members of displaying "old and tired prejudices espoused by anti-alcohol campaigners, which bear little or no resemblance to the reality".

He added: "We know of no evidence that would support the disproportionate banning of advertising alcohol, beyond the significant restrictions the ASA supervises and those which the Portman Group imposes for wider marketing practices."  

This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk

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