Alcohol manufacturers spent almost €24 million last year on advertising, an Oireachtas committee was told recently. The figure was given by the Chief Executive of the Association of Advertisers in Ireland Barry Dooley at ongoing hearings by the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Health as part of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015.
The AAI has worked with companies in the alcohol industry including Diageo, Heineken, Bulmers, IDL Pernod Ricard and Edward Dillon’s who collectively spent €23.5 million on advertising last year.
But this spend was by no means the largest and represents only 3% of total ad spend.
For example €66.8 million was spent on advertising by supermarkets, €31 million by the automobile industry and €29 million by the banks.
On behalf of the AAI Barry Dooley requested that “any decisions regarding new legislation recognise that Ireland currently has among the strictest and most comprehensive set of codes governing the placement of advertising and sponsorship of alcohol in the world”.
The Chairman of Responsible Retailing of Alcohol in Ireland Padraic White also made a submission claiming that average adherence to its Code of Practice stood at 87%, falling to 81% among shops.
His organisation had consistently urged the Department of Health to draw up a Code of Conduct for independent off-licences that aren’t subject to RRAI’s Code.
While there are no precise alcohol share numbers publicly available, based on the Kantar Worldpanel’s most recent measure of the Irish grocery market he reckons that RRAI members have a 95% share at least, which could be taken as indicative of their alcohol share of the mixed trade sector.
In supporting the replacement of the existing Code of Practice in mixed trading outlets with a Statutory Code with strengthened provisions on the display and sale of alcohol under Section 18 of the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act of 2011, the RRAI was of the view that such a development would best support existing efforts to deliver the policy objectives envisaged in Section 9 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008.
“The Heads of Bill provide for a two-year trial period for the Statutory Code after which there would be an evaluation by the Departments of Justice and Equality and Health of its effectiveness prior to any decision to implement Section 9,” stated his submission, “The RRAI supports the two-year trial period as an appropriate time-frame to determine in a fact-based and evidence-driven manner the effectiveness of the statutory Code.”
However he added, “The RRAI also has the option of bringing to the notice of the Gardaí and Courts examples of noteworthy breaches of the Code by non-members.
“The RRAI has consistently urged the Department of Health to introduce, as recommended in the Substance Misuse Report, an appropriate Code for the stand-alone off-licence sector and that it too be put on a statutory footing.
“As stand-alone off-licences are not members of the RRAI they’re not bound by its Code or any Code relating to the display and advertising of their alcohol products,” he claimed, adding, “It’s a matter of regret that the Department of Health have given no indication of addressing the need for a Code in the stand-alone off-licence sector.”
Patrick Kenny’s submission
Also presenting to this Committee was DIT Marketing lecturer Patrick Kenny who argued that longitudinal studies from other countries clearly indicate that the more alcohol marketing young people are exposed to the more they were likely to start drinking – and they’d drink more.
Describing Diageo’s funding of the Stop Out-of-Control Drinking campaign as “a clever exercise in corporate branding” he added, “The alcohol industry might also wish to explain how it can simultaneously maintain that tens of millions of €uro spent promoting alcohol does not lead to increased drinking but that €1 million or €2 million promoting safe drinking will lead to less drinking”.
Average Irish underage drinking lower than all other EU countries
A week later, ABFI Director Ross MacMathúna reported to the same Committee that his members had welcomed the publication of the Heads of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.
“We support many of the initiatives, having previously called on Government to implement several of them,” his submission stated, “We support the use of evidence-based approaches that will reduce the harm associated with the abuse of alcohol.”
He explained that based on Revenue clearance figures and CSO population data overall consumption of alcohol has fallen by about 25% over the past 15 years.
The most recent research from the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Drugs showed that underage drinking in Ireland had declined across all metrics between 1999-2011 by 16-24% and now average underage drinking is lower in Ireland when compared with all other European countries surveyed. “The marketing of alcohol brands is about differentiating brands from each other,” he stated, “Alcohol consumption has fallen since 2000 but during that time different brands gain and lose market share.”
ABFI argues that the proposal to introduce a watershed ban on advertising on TV and radio would only apply to domestic broadcasters RTE, TV3, TG4 and UTV Ireland, not to broadcasters operating outside the jurisdiction.
Approximately 50% of live TV content viewed by under-18s originates outside the island, he stated, adding that for those aged 15 to 18 this figure rises to 60%.
What’s more, a watershed wouldn’t apply to programming that’s viewed on demand or online. He pointed out that 18 to 24 year-olds spend on average 206 minutes per day online compared to 120 minutes watching TV and their digital consumption is increasing year-on-year.
“A restriction on TV advertising will miss large numbers of teenagers who’re spending their time online,” believes ABFI.
ABFI supports the inclusion of alcohol content information in the form of a standard drink or unit but the proposed introduction of grams as the measure of alcohol content will confuse consumers and compromise their ability to make an informed decision when purchasing or consuming alcohol, it stated.
“The research performed by Stockwell and Kerr that the Heads of the Bill references actually says that ‘grams or other weight-based measures are unlikely to be useful in helping drinkers to understand alcohol’,” the submission added.
An EU committee is currently reviewing the potential for a harmonised unit at EU level. It’s also evaluating the various issues associated with alcohol products specifically around nutrition/calorie labelling. It’s expected to publish the findings of its research in 2015 “… and as the issues are being considered formally at EU level, now may not be the most appropriate time to develop national measures,” suggested the submission, “ABFI would also like to point out the risks associated with introducing labelling requirements which would lead to companies having to create labels specific to the Irish market. Such a move could be contrary to the principles of the free movement of goods.”
ABFI called again on the government to reintroduce the relevant section of the Groceries Order in order to best regulate the merchandising of alcohol.
“Our view is that MUP will be ineffective as a measure to address the sale of cheap alcohol.”
ABFI also believes that the Responsible Serving of Alcohol programme should be mandatory for all hospitality staff and the Federation would welcome regulations to that effect within the bill, with the RSA programme being evaluated externally.
The Oireachtas Committee on Health will issue recommendations to the Minister who’ll publish a Bill which must go through the Houses of the Oireachtas.
To see more on the industry’s submissions to the Joint Committee goto: http://www.drinksindustryireland.ie/drinks-bodies-make-presentations-on-alcohol-bill/