The National Alliance for Action on Alcohol held a forum at Parliament House on 25 June 2014. The forum focused on the impact of alcohol marketing on children. This post is adapted from a two page briefing note provided to politicians who attended the forum.
Young people experience disproportionate levels of alcohol-related harms.
Exposure to alcohol marketing shapes young people’s attitudes towards drinking and behaviours.
Alcohol marketing in Australia is more prolific than ever, with an unprecedented number of platforms for advertising including through social media and the sponsorship of sporting and cultural events.
The current self-regulatory environment for alcohol marketing in Australia is inadequate for protecting young people from alcohol marketing.
Leading health authorities, including the World Health Organization and the Australian Medical Association, as well as international scientific reviews, recommend restrictions on alcohol marketing as part of a comprehensive approach to reducing alcohol-related harms.
THE NEED FOR IMMEDIATE ACTION
The Commonwealth Government needs to act to protect young people, beginning with:
- Immediately closing the loophole that allows alcohol advertising during live sporting broadcasts before 8.30pm on commercial free-to-air television.
- Replacing the current system of industry self-regulation with a legislative framework for regulating alcohol advertising, overseen by an independent body, with mandatory controls which cover all types of marketing activities, flexible enough to adapt and respond to changing environments, and include penalties for non-compliance.
- Phasing-out alcohol sponsorship of sporting and cultural events that expose young people to alcohol promotions.
In addition to the above, we call for a Parliamentary Inquiry into the impact of alcohol marketing on young people.
THE EVIDENCE ON ALCOHOL ADVERTISING AND YOUNG PEOPLE
A review of 12 longitudinal studies of over 38,000 young people has shown that the volume of alcohol advertising they are exposed to influences the age that they start drinking and their consumption levels. The review concluded “that alcohol advertising and promotion increases the likelihood that adolescents will start to use alcohol, and to drink more if they are already using alcohol.”
A cross-sectional survey of 1,113 Australian adolescents (aged 12 to 17 years) explored the relationships between multiple drinking behaviours (initiation, recent consumption and regular consumption) and various types of advertising (television, magazine, newspaper, internet, billboard, bottleshop, bar and promotional material). Alcohol advertising across a range of media was found to strongly influence the drinking patterns of young people, with the impact most pronounced on initiation into drinking.
A cross-sectional survey of 6,651 school students (mean age = 13.95 years) across four countries found that exposure to online alcohol marketing, and exposure to alcohol-branded sport sponsorship, both increased young adolescents’ intention to drink and also increased the odds that they had been drinking in the past 30 days.
THE UBIQUITOUS NATURE OF ALCOHOL MARKETING
The volume of alcohol marketing to which young Australians are exposed is unprecedented.
Young people are exposed to alcohol marketing through traditional media such as television, radio, newspapers, magazines and billboards, and also through the internet, including social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
Alcohol marketing also occurs in the form of sponsorship of cultural and sporting events. Studies show that alcohol sponsorship in sport is not only associated with hazardous drinking by sporting participants, it also communicates strong messages about alcohol brands and drinking that are absorbed by children.
During the Bathurst 1000 in 2008, those who watched the whole race (from 10.35am until 5.05pm) were exposed to 35 minutes of alcohol advertising including in-break alcohol advertisements and sponsorship. This audience included an estimated 117,000 children and young people aged 5-17 years.
An Australian study of 164 children aged 5 to 12 years found that 76% of them were able to correctly match at least one sport with its relevant sponsor.
A survey of 155 young people (aged 9 to 15 years) in Western Australia found that 75% recognised Bundy Bear and correctly associated him with an alcoholic product.
A study in Sydney and Wollongong found that alcohol advertisements made up 22% (n=416) of all of the outdoor advertising surrounding schools. For each square kilometre there were 25 alcohol advertisements.
THE REGULATION OF ALCOHOL MARKETING
There are many flaws in the self-regulated Alcohol Beverages Advertising (ABAC) Responsible Alcohol Marketing Code system, including:
- The system is voluntary and does not cover the whole alcohol industry;
- It does not have the authority to penalise code breaches, nor provide certainty that a noncompliant advertisement will be modified or removed;
- It only deals with the content of advertisements, not the placement;
- It fails to cover many substantial forms of alcohol advertising such as sponsorship of sport, music or other cultural events, gift with purchase, or product placement (e.g. in music videos);
- It requires complaints to be first lodged with the Advertising Standards Board (ASB) but this acts as a barrier to lodging complaints about specific products and a range of other alcohol marketing.
- The process is entirely contingent on community members making complaints; many may not have the motivation, confidence and awareness required to engage with the cumbersome complaints system.
International evidence shows that in countries with stricter alcohol advertising regulations there is a lower prevalence of hazardous drinking.
In Australia, several voluntary codes and guides seek to give the impression that alcohol marketing is appropriately regulated, but this is not the case.
The alcohol industry’s current system of self-regulation, the ABAC, has consistently been found to be ineffective by studies that have examined compliance of advertisements with the ABAC. Several Government reviews have also highlighted the deficiencies of the ABAC.
The ABAC was established over 20 years ago when media channels and advertising techniques were less diverse and sophisticated than today.
Alcohol advertising is currently permitted at any time as part of the broadcast of a live sporting event on weekends and public holidays. Several studies show that this exemption for live sport contributes significantly to the frequency and amount of alcohol advertising to which young people are exposed on television.
COMMUNITY SUPPORT FOR ACTION
A majority of Australian adults (71%) believe that alcohol advertising and promotions influence the behaviour of people aged under 18 years.
Two-thirds (67%) of Australian adults support a ban on alcohol advertising on television before 8.30pm.
Three-quarters of parents support the introduction of policies to restrict unhealthy food, beverage and alcohol sponsorship of children’s and elite sports.
Download the briefing note (including footnotes) here.