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Magic pancakes and alcohol don’t mix

Alcohol ads on television aren’t allowed to be broadcast before 8:30pm, except during live sport, when because of a curious exception in the Commercial Television Code of Practice, alcohol advertising is allowed to screen during the day on weekends or public holidays as part of a live sporting event.

This exception might seem benign—but given the popularity of sport with children and young people, alcohol advertising during sporting broadcasts has the potential to reach a significant youth audience. For example, both the AFL and NRL grand finals are extremely popular with children; the AFL grand final for example, is consistently in the top 5 most watched television programs for children. The NRL grand final broadcast was the second highest rated program with children under 12, in the period 30 September – 20 October 2013.

The impact of the exception is significant. For example, from January to December 2007 almost half (46%) of the alcohol advertisements screened in five metropolitan television markets (Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney) were shown on weekends and public holidays. During this period 44% of the alcohol advertisements shown at weekends and weekday public holidays were shown during the day, between 5.01am to 8.29pm, reflecting the operation and impact of the exception.

But why the fuss about alcohol advertising during high-rating kids shows? Well, researchers have concluded that childhood exposure to alcohol advertising is related to harmful drinking later in life; which is itself linked to serious problems—and not just in rates of violence and anti-social behaviour, but also in rates of illness and disease. The number of young people under the age of 30 developing alcoholic liver disease has risen more than ten-fold in the last five years.  People with this disease in their twenties were likely to have begun heavy drinking as young as 15.

While the alcohol industry asserts that it doesn’t deliberately set out to target the youth market, the fact remains that the youth market is highly susceptible to advertising messages. And when these messages are an integral component of sporting events and personalities, which are well known to be popular with children and young people, it’s hard not to think that there’s something more behind the alignment of alcohol brands and sporting codes.

Last week we launched a video highlighting the absurdity of allowing alcohol advertising during high-rating kids’ shows—that is, alcohol advertising during live sport.

While we’re frequently told how important these deals are for funding these sporting events, let’s not forget who’s reaping the greatest benefit from these deals. Let’s also not forget that sport can, and will, exist without alcohol advertising.

Consider what’s happening internationally. Although it’s hard to think of a more sporting mad country than Australia, there are some pretty strong contenders. The South Africans go nuts for rugby and even managed to get Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood to immortalise their 1995 world cup victory. Ireland are big on rugby too as well as gaelic football mad!  Other than industrial action, the only other thing the French stop work for is the Tour De France. Even dear old mother England gets carried away with the bunting and the football chants— for Rooney and Stevie-G, for the Olympics, the Ashes or even when a Scot wins Wimbledon.

What else do they all have in common? France has had a ban on alcohol advertising since the 1970s, South Africa has recently introduced legislation to ban all alcohol marketing, and Ireland and the UK have signalled moves to phase out alcohol sponsorship.

Here in Australia the 2009 National Preventative Health Taskforce report included a recommendation to phase out alcohol promotions from times and placements which have high exposure to young people aged up to 25 years.  Yet three years later, this idea has yet to get a call up.

Are we forgetting the scoreboard of our nation’s health and wellbeing?

It’s time Australia started kicking goals too.

To watch the video and find out about the adShame campaign, visit adShame.org.au.

Sondra Davoren

Sondra is a Senior Legal Policy Advisor at Cancer Council Victoria and a member of Australia’s National Preventive Health Agency’s Expert Committee on Alcohol.

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