Parents not tuned in to health impact of alcohol ad loophole

New research* from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) has revealed only one in four Australians are aware of a loophole that allows alcohol advertisements to air during weekend sports programs before 8:30pm.

The loophole allows alcohol companies to use high-rating sports, including the AFL, which began last Thursday, to broadcast more than 1,500 additional alcohol advertisements each season.

The RACP is concerned that children are the collateral damage in the marketing campaigns of the big brewers and parents are being caught unawares.

The loophole, part of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice, needs to be closed, and it is simply unacceptable that the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) allow this to happen.

On every other day of the week, during every other program on television, ACMA recognises that alcohol advertisements are harmful to children and does not allow for them to be shown before 8.30pm. Why are sports programs an exception?

It is also a concern that the majority of parents appear to be unaware of this loophole. Many most likely believe that their children are watching sports programs that are age appropriate. The reality is however that the alcohol advertisements being aired are for a much more mature audience.

Multiple studies point to alcohol advertising’s negative health impact. We know exposure to alcohol advertising encourages children to start drinking earlier, to binge drink more often and to start a journey toward established drinking and exposure to other alcohol-related harms.

It’s therefore not surprising that the peak age for the onset of alcohol use disorders is just 18 years old.

Alcohol companies have a tendency to heavily target the AFL, and other sports including cricket and the NRL, with their marketing. A 2015 study revealed there were 1942 free-to-air alcohol advertisements during broadcasts of one season of AFL, of which 47 per cent were aired between 6:00am and 8:29pm.

With the AFL now underway, I’d like to encourage you to keep a tally of how many times they spot alcohol marketing, either at the ground, on a player’s singlet or on the TV. I have no doubt the number will surprise and shock you.


* Based on attitudinal research completed by Essential Media on behalf of the RACP in March 2017. Sample size of 1004 respondents.

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Dr Catherine Yelland

Dr Catherine Yelland is the RACP President. She is also Director of Medicine and Older Persons Service at Redcliffe Hospital. Dr Yelland is a geriatrician and general physician, and is interested in clinical medicine, service development and physician education.

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