A total ban on alcohol advertising - the next logical step?

An editorial published in the British Medical Journal today calls for ‘a complete ban on alcohol advertising and sponsorship’. The authors cite concerns about underage drinking as justification for a blanket ban and claim that a 2012 RAND report ‘confirms that such a step is long overdue’. In fact, the RAND report makes no such recommendation and Britain already has one of the world's most restricted marketplaces for alcohol advertising.

The headline of the BMJ editorial refers to the drinks industry ‘grooming the next generation’ - a distasteful attempt to draw a parallel with paedophilia - and much of the text is devoted to online marketing. The internet has, of course, created new regulatory challenges as well as new commercial opportunities, but there is no evidence that online marketing has led to a surge in underage drinking. Quite the reverse. Regular alcohol consumption by 11 to 15 year olds has fallen by two-thirds in the last decade - from 20% to 7% - and the proportion of these children who had ever drunk alcohol fell from 61% to 45% in the same period.

The BMJ’s call for a total advertising ban is manifestly not a response to a growing crisis; rather it is the ‘next logical step’ in a campaign to apply the anti-smoking blueprint to alcohol. It is no coincidence that one of the editorial’s authors, Gerard Hastings, works at the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies and has been heavily involved in the campaign for plain packaging of cigarettes. He holds the view, often espoused by left-wing environmentalists, that consumption is primarily caused by advertising rather than by wants, and he is already looking beyond tobacco and alcohol as industries to clamp down on, asking last year ‘should not all advertising be much more circumscribed because the consumption it engenders harms the planet?’

This latest call for legislation sits alongside minimum pricing, graphic warnings on alcohol and sin taxes on fizzy drinks in the long list of demands from the public health industry so far this year. Banning advertising is an important step in the process of ‘denormalisation’ - or, to put it more bluntly, ‘stigmatisation’ - of products which carry any measure of risk and it should be resisted on both practical and moral grounds. The vast majority of British adults are drinkers and they have a right to know what products are available and at what price. Advertising helps us make informed and efficient choices while protecting us from being ripped off in a ‘dark market’. Without advertising there can be no true competition, and without competition, the marketplace becomes a cosy cartel. A ban on advertising would discourage new players from entering the market and would stifle innovation.

Moreover, the proposed ban on sponsorship would have serious economic consequences that go beyond the market for alcohol. Most obviously, it would deprive newspapers and television companies of an important source of revenue, but it would also adversely affect all sorts of other enterprises, such as microbreweries, music festivals and Sunday football leagues. These sort of unintended consequences are not discussed in the British Medical Journal editorial. It is beyond their narrow field of interest. But no matter how few children experiment with alcohol, it will always be too many for health campaigners and the rhetoric of protecting kids will always be used to infringe the liberties of adults. Ultimately, it will lead to us all being treated like children.

I suspect that "microbreweries, music festivals and Sunday football leagues" are of little interest to public health fanatics.
Following the (flawed) logic of advertising leading to demand, where are drugs like cocaine etc. advertised? Where ever that is, it is too subtle for me to spot. Also, how do they package them or are they using plain packaging already? Cannot say I've seen too many discarded dope wrappers lying about in the High St on a Sunday morning.
There are many ways to find out more about the different alcoholic companies out there and their products. Surely you know enough about most of the alcoholic drinks you are currently consuming, but if not you can always do your own research to find out more about the different ''products available and at what price''. Yes this may take longer than usual, but if this step allows for a healthier public, then this benefit by far outweighs the extra effort you will have to make.
On the subject of grooming, the question we should really be asking is whether or not it is appropriate for demonstrably dishonest, authoritarian obsessives [edited by moderator] to be given unfettered access to young minds through the university system. I shudder at the thought of people like them grooming the next generation. In the BMJ article it is claimed "That this commercial activity is harming children is beyond dispute" This is untrue. It may be beyond dispute amongst a hand picked bunch of less than objective members of some taxpayer funded European talking shop but even the report produced by that somewhat biased group is not quite so unequivocal. Having assessed various aspects of marketing in some depth and found that the evidence was mostly absent inconsistent or not significant the Science Group of the European Alcohol and Health Forum demonstrate a talent for spinning straw into gold by concluding: 'Despite the above methodological concerns and despite the fact that not all studies found an impact for all the individual marketing exposures studied, nevertheless, the overall description of the studies found consistent evidence to demonstrate an impact of alcohol advertising on the uptake of drinking among non-drinking young people, and increased consumption among their drinking peers.' This roughly translates as: "The evidence is methodologically unsound rubbish but not all of the studies are insignificant and some seem to come up with the "right" answer. Some of our mates have cherry picked the best and used them in systemic reviews that support our politics. Even those are a bit crap really but we can claim that at least they are consistent" Consistency is hardly surprising. Can you imagine the likes of Sheron and Hastings publishing anything that did not agree with their politics? They are two particularly bad apples but I don't have much confidence in the rest of bunch either. As for the BMJ, I realize that it has a fairly open editorial policy but when I read something this overtly political and manipulative as the editorial you reference, I think it reasonable to question the editor's judgement.
@Lisa on Sat.02/03/2013 Lisa, there is YOUR health and then there is MY health. There is no such thing as 'public' health. Being teetotal might be your choice. It is not my choice. I enjoy a pint or two every now and then. Leave me and all other sensible drinkers alone. Just shut up and go away. Please.
Dumbass control-freakery micromanaging should be resisted on principle. It encourages busy-bodies, it bears down on legitimate activities and draws the circle of freedom narrower every year. At some point you just have to leave people to take responsibility for their own decisions. Whether about smoking, drinking, fatty foods or anything else. Stop reflexively banning things as a solution to any problem.
We ought to apply a simple Why-Because analysis to the premise that advertising alcohol creates demand. 1) Does demand for alcohol exist without advertising? Certainly - the gin craze needed no Saatchi and Saatchi. People have been drinking, enjoying and misusing alcohol for thousands of years. 2) Are there people who consume alcohol advertising but not alcohol itself? Again, yes. Teetotalism is a recognised phenomenon, not by any means confined to those with some sort of unique insight into health or the media. On this basis, the causal link between advertising and demand is far from clear. What advertising can do is take existing demand and shape it towards a particular brand. Guinness adverts aim to sell Guinness, not beer. People already want to buy beer. Since, as Chris has shown, there has been no real rise in under-age consumption in the past few years, it is hard to avoid the feeling that the anti-alcohol lobby want restriction on the freedom to contract and consume "because the internet".
I so wish these Do-Gooders would mind their own business. What kind of society is it, we are living in, with a bunch of people having nothing else to do than to "take care" of other peoples lives by deciding what is best for them and placing them under disability. May be we should reverse the picture and decide what is best for physicians and I would say that a thing to start with is to tell them to mind their own business.
An excellent article by Gilles Saint-Paul in the latest Economic Affairs examines the philosophical basis of this sort of intervention. He relates it to a breakdown in the underpinnings of utilitarianism as a result of a particular interpretation of recent findings of behavioural economists. He argues for a more thoroughgoing assertion of core values of autonomy and responsibility.
"...products which carry any measure of risk ..." Everything in the world, including water and air can be "analyzed" and "shown" to have some measure of risk. The goal of the exercise is to control the populace, by pushing them harder and harder to stop doing stuff that the progressives find distasteful. They have been working on this for nearly a century, demonizing drugs and alcohol and all sorts of natural products, including even the elements in the periodic table, to get us used to being bullied. (a bit ironic, that, considering that they use the concept of bullying to impose even more PC). And the most extreme progressives are driving this process the hardest.
"...products which carry any measure of risk ..." Everything in the world, including water and air can be "analyzed" and "shown" to have some measure of risk. The goal of the exercise is to control the populace, by pushing them harder and harder to stop doing stuff that the progressives find distasteful. They have been working on this for nearly a century, demonizing drugs and alcohol and all sorts of natural products, including even the elements in the periodic table, to get us used to being bullied. (a bit ironic, that, considering that they use the concept of bullying to impose even more PC). And the most extreme progressives are driving this process the hardest.
No one is taking away your right to drink. Drink away. Advertising does increase consumption, it is effective otherwise no one would create it. Banning alcohol advertising does not affect any personal liberties, but it can decrease problematic consumption.

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