AAI Chief Executive Ed McDonald stated that misuse of alcohol and the issue of under-age drinking are rightly matters of concern to society in general and that the alcohol industry shares this concern and would support practical measures on these matters.
However he added, “Advertising is an important element in how any company, business or organisation promotes its products, services or messages. And that applies to all such organisations, not just the business ones and not just to alcohol companies. Publishing an ad is no guarantee that it will make the product a success or that it will persuade consumers to buy the product”.
He continued, “It is vital to clearly assess the causes of the problems and who they affect and then to target suitable actions to deal with the problems, but a blanket approach that includes banning advertising won’t achieve the needed results. The experience of bans and prohibitions in other countries says that bans don’t work”.
Noting that the report calls for statutory legislation to control or restrict alcohol advertising as a means of reducing alcohol misuse and under-age drinking, he said, “The terms of the Review Group included the commitment that its outcomes would be evidence-based. But the report does not do this. It quotes a small number of studies as evidence but ignores the huge body of research which shows contrary evidence. It is essential that proposals for new policy development in any activity should be evidence-based and that it should address the issues at the heart of the problem or issue.
“No evidence that advertising causes alcohol misuse or under-age drinking or increases the sale of alcohol is presented. In fact, there is much evidence to say that the greatest influences on under-age drinking come from young peoples’ peers and parents and their general environment. It is worth noting in this regard that with little advertising behind it, wine sales have increased very substantially over recent years while beer, which accounts for the largest proportion of advertising, has actually seen its proportion of the market decline. That clearly suggests that advertising is not necessarily, not uniquely or even the major driver”.
He noted that there is in fact very extensive regulation of alcohol advertising in Ireland, with a wide array of Codes of Practice which require very careful compliance by alcohol companies, pointing out that, “Over the past decade, out of the total amount spent on all advertising, alcohol advertising has been less than five per cent of the total advertising spend in each year and all of this is subject to very close scrutiny under the Codes of practice in force”.
He noted too that the Chairman of the Department of Health-appointed Alcohol Marketing Communications Monitoring Body Peter Cassels, speaking to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children on this subject last November, said, “In general there is compliance and the rate of compliance has improved significantly to the extent that most of the areas are now compliant and this has reduced the exposure of young people to alcohol advertising”.