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Time for action on alcohol marketing

Alcohol marketing has a powerful effect on young people in Australia. Amid a background of rising community concerns about the effects of excessive alcohol consumption, young people in Australia are being exposed to an unprecedented level of alcohol marketing. Yet much of this marketing is occurring under the radar of parents, the community and policy makers. As the extent and sophistication of alcohol marketing increases, advertising regulations are proving ever more ineffectual and outdated.

The shape of contemporary alcohol marketing, its impact and implications, and the need for a robust policy response are highlighted in a report released today by the AMA, Alcohol marketing and young people: Time for a new policy agenda. As this report demonstrates, new digital technologies and sophisticated branding techniques have dramatically expanded the variety and volume of promotional activities and advertising practices that young people are being exposed to. Alongside traditional forms of alcohol marketing, alcohol companies are aggressively harnessing the marketing potential of Facebook, online video channels, interactive games and mobile phone marketing. This has occurred alongside an increase in product placement in films and music, alcohol-sponsored music and sporting events, alcohol-branded merchandise, and the proliferation of new alcoholic brands and flavours.

The alcohol industry denies that their marketing campaigns specifically target children or adolescents. In arguments that mirror those made by Big Tobacco, the alcohol industry refutes evidence that shows that their advertising impacts on the drinking patterns of young Australians. But the findings from a growing body of research are clear. Studies have consistently demonstrated that young people in Australia are regularly exposed to alcohol marketing across a variety of settings and media platforms. Research from both Australia and overseas has further indicated that the explosive rise in alcohol marketing does effect young people, increasing the likelihood that they will start to use alcohol, and encouraging those who are already drinking to consume more.

With convincing evidence supporting the link between alcohol marketing and alcohol consumption by young people, the imperative to act is clear. The sheer volume and variety of alcohol marketing that is reaching young Australians reveals systematic flaws in the self-regulatory framework that applies to alcohol advertising in Australia. Under this system of self regulation, the alcohol industry fund and administer a scheme that is voluntary, limited in scope, unable to enforce penalties, and ultimately fails to protect young people from continuous exposure to alcohol marketing.

In both Australian and international analyses, self-regulation has consistently been shown to be ineffective in reducing the volume and impact of alcohol marketing on young people. Based on these analyses, organisations such as the World Health Organisation have advocated the adoption of statutory regulations, which are codified in law and independent of the alcohol industry, thereby providing a backdrop to support the enforcement of regulations. Other characteristics of effective regulatory systems include effective deterrence systems and meaningful sanctions for non-compliance; coverage of all forms of marketing, including marketing through sponsorship, and through online and mobile technologies; and clear unambiguous regulations that address the volume as well as the content of alcohol marketing.

The implications for policy-makers are compelling: responsibility for alcohol marketing cannot be left to industry. A swift and rigorous policy response, including regulatory reform, is vital if we are to reduce alcohol marketing to young people in Australia.

Steve Hambleton

Dr Steve Hambleton was elected Federal President of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) in May 2011. Dr Hambleton graduated from the University of Queensland in 1984 and commenced full-time general practice in Queensland in 1987. He has been working at the same general practice at Kedron in Brisbane since 1988. Dr Hambleton was President of AMA Queensland and an AMA Federal Councillor. He served on the AMA Council of General Practice at a State and Federal level for more than 10 years. Dr Hambleton was the AMA representative on the National Immunisation Committee from 2006-2010, and was a member of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee for two years until 2009. He has been a member of the AMA Taskforce on Indigenous Health since 2006 and is currently the Chair of the Taskforce.


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