Scotland has a deep, longstanding and troubled relationship with alcohol. In 2020, Scots bought enough alcohol for everyone aged over 16 to drink 18 units of alcohol every week, 28% more than the UK Chief Medical Officers’ lower-risk guidelines of 14 units per week. High levels of consumption cause a range of harms. An average of 700 people are hospitalised and 24 people die each week from illnesses caused by drinking alcohol. Each one of these deaths is tragic and entirely preventable.
Alcohol-related harm is one of the most pressing public health challenges that we face in Scotland. We have taken a number of actions to prevent and reduce this, including our world-leading minimum unit pricing policy, the reduction of the drink-drive limit and the multi-buy discount ban.
Restricting alcohol marketing is identified as one of the World Health Organization’s three ‘best buys’, the most cost-effective measures that WHO recommends to prevent and reduce alcohol-related harm. Many our European neighbours have already taken action to do this including Ireland, France and Norway. This consultation sets out a potential approach for Scotland.
Alcohol is marketed through an integrated mix of strategies including advertising on TV, on billboards outdoors, through sports and events sponsorship as well as through branded merchandise and online.
Alcohol marketing is seen by, and appealing to, large volumes of children and young people in Scotland. International evidence shows that seeing alcohol marketing is associated with an increased likelihood that children and young people will start to drink alcohol or, if they already drink alcohol, drink more. This is harmful to them in both the short and long term.
It is also likely that alcohol marketing influences heavy drinkers and acts as an incentive to drink, which can make abstention more challenging for those in recovery. This is in addition to the likely impact marketing has on our wider society, by normalising alcohol and presenting it as fun, sociable, commonplace, and even part of a healthy lifestyle.
Young people in Scotland, and people in recovery and their families, have told us directly that they see a lot of alcohol marketing and want us to take action to restrict this. This consultation sets out a range of potential proposals to reduce and restrict alcohol marketing including prohibiting alcohol advertising outdoors, phasing out alcohol sponsorship and reducing the promotion of alcohol in-store.
By restricting alcohol marketing in Scotland we hope to reduce the appeal of alcohol to our young people. This will support a reduction in consumption of alcohol and subsequently improve their health and health prospects as adults. It will also reduce the potential triggering effect that alcohol marketing can have on heavy drinkers and those in recovery or treatment. Restricting alcohol marketing will also support our ambition to change our troubled relationship with alcohol. Your responses will help shape our next steps.
Maree Todd, MSP, Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport
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