Alcohol advertising and promotion consultation: stakeholder engagement summary – 8 February 2023

Minutes from the ministerial roundtable with people in recovery and representatives on 8 February 2023 to discuss the consultation on potential restrictions to alcohol advertising and promotion.

Attendees and apologies

  • Maree Todd MSP, Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport
  • Scottish Government officials
  • Alcohol Focus Scotland
  • people in recovery and representatives

Items and actions

Alcohol Focus Scotland engaged with the recovery community and children and young people about alcohol marketing through a mix of focus groups, individual interviews, and surveys and produced two animations. These animations use illustrations and quotes outlining the experiences of alcohol marketing in Scotland. One animation is from the perspective of people in recovery and the other from young people, the animations were shown as part of the roundtable.

Attendees noted that the animation, was powerful, especially around sporting events, and felt like this area would be a good place to start. They said that people in recovery are having to avoid clubs and bars but are maybe trying to find a healthier hobby in watching sports.

The Minister agreed that alcohol was too visible in sport and quoted a study shwoing that there was an alcohol reference every 12 seconds at the 2020 Calcutta Cup. 

Attendees generally felt that there was a lot of alcohol marketing across a range of settings in Scotland and that this should be restricted. They described alcohol addiction as being all your brain can think about and alcohol advertising as being triggering for this and keeping it on the mind. Attendees mentioned the comparison with tobacco and cultural change why took decades as well as how available alcohol is. One attendee mentioned they can buy alcohol from 12 different outlets within a 15 minute walk of their home.

The Minister agreed that alcohol was strongly intertwined with our culture in Scotland and that alcohol marketing forms a big part of that. The Minister agreed there were some similarities to tobacco but also that there are differences – there are low-risk drinking guidelines for alcohol and the Scottish Government (SG) are not against low levels of drinking alcohol. There is also a balance required between public health and economic interests with alcohol policy.

Attendees raised the visibility of alcohol in the supermarket/shop setting and how problematic this is for those in recovery. Ideas were raised like having alcohol behind a closed cabinet like tobacco or in a separate area of a shop. One attendee in recovery mentioned that in early recovery they found it difficult to avoid seeing alcohol when shopping and that this would trigger them to think about alcohol. Being in their face made it more difficult.  

The Minister noted that other countries had introduced restrictions like this but mentioned concerns raised about how this can be easier in larger supermarkets compared to smaller shops. Proposals need to be practical and balanced.

One of the attendees mentioned cinema advertising of alcohol as being problematic – there were eight alcohol adverts at a film they had went to see at the cinema.

The Minister shared an experience she had when going to see a family film at a matinee performance and being disappointed to see alcohol advertising around this.

An attendee mentioned education and the need for this on addiction and the risks of alcohol.

The Minister endorsed the World Health Organization's ‘best buys’ of reducing the affordability, attractiveness and availability of alcohol as being the most cost-effective policies countries can implement. Education has a place but can only be so effective. We need to change the environment and make it easier to make healthier choices. Some companies are encouraging people to spend money they don’t have on things they don’t need that have no nutritional value. 

One attendee spoke about it being difficult to distinguish between alcohol brands and no/low alcohol products with similar branding.

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