No escape: How alcohol advertising preys on children and vulnerable people

Posted on: 30th November 2021

As a member of the Alcohol Health Alliance, the British Liver Trust has welcomed its new report on how alcohol advertising preys on children and vulnerable people.

Launched today, the report highlights the role of marketing and how it directly influences alcohol consumption. Alcohol marketing normalises alcohol and helps create a culture where alcohol is seen as an ‘essential’ part of everyday life. Alcohol marketing is persistent everywhere: on the streets, on public transport, in the press and magazines, online and event sponsorships to name a few.

The key findings of the report

People in recovery

  • People in recovery have highlighted that alcohol marketing can make recovery much harder. Alcohol marketing can cue the desire for alcohol and advertisements can be a trigger for relapse. The report includes several personal testimonials of this.
  • A recent study into the role the environment plays in recovery from alcohol dependence has confirmed that the persistent availability and marketing of alcohol was one of the largest risks.

Children and alcohol advertisement

  • There is substantial evidence that exposure to alcohol marketing leads to children starting to drink earlier and more than they otherwise would.
  • Early age of drinking onset is associated with an increased likelihood of developing alcohol dependence in adolescence and adulthood, and also with dependence at a younger age.
  • The Government recognises that children must be protected from alcohol advertising, but argues that the existing self-regulatory codes are sufficient at this. However, evidence shows that children are exposed to significant amounts of alcohol advertising, which builds their brand awareness. More importantly, this influences their perceptions of alcohol.
  • Four in five (82%) 11-17-year-olds had seen alcohol marketing in the past month.

Vanessa Hebditch, Director of Policy and Communications at the British Liver Trust, says: “Although there are many causes of liver disease, alcohol is still the leading cause of deaths caused by liver disease in the UK today. Alcohol marketing makes it much more difficult for people to stick to the Government guidelines of no more than 14 units a week and thereby reduce their risk of developing liver disease. We also know from our nurse-led helpline and support groups that for people who are abstinent due to an alcohol-related liver condition, alcohol marketing can be a powerful trigger for relapse, which can be fatal.

“The current self-regulatory codes of alcohol marketing are clearly not effective. In the report, we recommend that alcohol should be included in the restrictions proposed for ‘unhealthy food and drink’ in the Health and Care Bill, including a 9pm watershed on TV and on-demand services, as well as a complete online ban.

“In the longer term, more comprehensive restrictions should be introduced to limit exposure to alcohol marketing, in line with WHO recommendations.”