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Alcohol is one of the most significant ‘fast moving consumer goods’ (FMCGs) marketed today. It is estimated that each year more than £800 million is spent on advertising alcoholic beverages in the UK, with the global estimate approximating $1 trillion. Marketing can include advertising in traditional media outlets such as print, television and radio, promotional activities in online and social media, and sponsorship of sporting and music events.

Alcohol marketing utilises the “four Ps”: the product itself including taste and packaging; price promotions as a means to drive sales; applying tactics at the place of sale, for example attractive supermarket promotions and sophisticated promotion tactics across new media and through sponsorship of sporting and cultural events. Tactics under each of these “four Ps” have been found to increase consumption.[1], [2], [3], [4]

The alcohol and advertising industries argue that as alcohol is a legal product it should be legally possible for it to be advertised, while many argue that as well as promoting brands, advertising is also concerned with recruiting new drinkers and increasing sales among existing, and especially heavy consumers. Many see parallels between alcohol advertising and promotion and past tobacco advertising and promotion practices.[5]

Research shows that exposure of children and young people to alcohol marketing materials leads them to drink at an earlier age and to drink more than they otherwise would.[6] Movies, television, sponsorship of sporting and music events, online video, social networking sites, magazine advertisements, music, video games, alcohol-branded merchandise, free samples, and price offers have all been found to affect young people’s alcohol use.[7], [8], [9], [10], [11], [12]

The World Health Organisation states: “the extent and breadth of commercial communications on alcohol and their impact, particularly on young people’s drinking, should not be underestimated”.[13] Alcohol advertising in the UK is already subject to controls that seek to prevent advertisers targeting and appealing to young people. The controls cover broadcast, print and online advertising and are a mix of co-regulation (with OFCOM) and self-regulation, administered by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Portman Group. The Portman Code covers marketing such as sponsorship, promotion and product packaging. The current regulatory system and codes of conduct have been criticised for failing to protect children and young people from exposure to alcohol marketing and many health groups have called for greater restrictions to be introduced, such as those that are in place in France under the 'Loi Evin'.

The UK currently falls under EU Directive 2010/13/EU on the coordination of laws and regulations concerning the provision of audio visual media (the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD)), which sets out criteria that television advertising of alcohol must comply with. Many issues have been raised with the AVMSD adopted in 2010. In 2016, a new legislative proposal amending the AVMSD was adopted, however these concerns have not been addressed. The AVMSD proposal has then been sent to the European Parliament and to the Council and is expected adopted in 2017.[14] Such regulation will continue to apply to Britain until such time as the country leaves the European internal market.

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[1] Stead, M., Angus, K., Macdonald, L., and Bauld, L., (January 2014) ‘Looking into the Glass: Glassware as an Alcohol Marketing Tool, and the Implications for Policy’, Alcohol and Alcoholism, 49: 3, pp. 317–320 <>

[2] University of Sheffield (2008), ‘Modelling alcohol pricing and promotion effects on consumption and harm’, Independent Review of the Effects of Alcohol Pricing and Promotion, Part B <!/file/PartB.pdf>

[3] Nakamuraa, R., Pecheya, R., Suhrckea, M., Jebba, S., Marteau, T., (May 2014), “Sales impact of displaying alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages in end-of-aisle locations: An observational study”, Social Science and Medicine, 108, pp. 68–73 <>

[4] Brown, K., (February 2016) ‘Association Between Alcohol Sports Sponsorship and Consumption: A Systematic Review’, Alcohol and Alcoholism, 2016, pp. 1–9 <>

[5] Hastings, G., and MacFadyen, L (2000)., ‘Keep Smiling – No One's Going to Die. An Analysis of Internal Documents from the Tobacco Industry’s Main UK Advertising Agencies. Centre for Tobacco Control Research’, University of Strathclyde <>

[6] World Health Organisation [WHO] Europe (2009), ‘Evidence for the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of interventions to reduce alcohol-related harm’ <>

[7] Tanski, S., McClure, A., Li, Z., Jackson, K., Morgenstern, M., Li, Z. and Sargent, J., (2015), ‘Cued recall of alcohol advertising on television and underage drinking behavior.’ JAMA Pediatrics, 169: 3, pp. 264–271 <>

[8] Morgenstern, M., Sargent, J., Sweeting, H., Faggiano, F., Mathis, F. and Hanewinkel, R. (2014), ‘Favourite alcohol advertisements and binge drinking among adolescents: a cross‐cultural cohort study.’ Addiction, 109: 12, pp. 2005–2015 <>

[9] Hanewinkel, R., Sargent, J., Poelen, E., Scholte, R., Florek, E., Sweeting, H., Hunt, K., Karlsdottir, S., Jonsson, S., Mathis, F. and Faggiano, F., (2012), ‘Alcohol consumption in movies and adolescent binge drinking in 6 European countries.’ Pediatrics, 129: 4, pp. 1–12 <>

[10] Tucker, J., Miles, J. and D'Amico, E., (2013). ‘Cross-lagged associations between substance use-related media exposure and alcohol use during middle school.’ Journal of Adolescent Health, 53: 4, pp. 460–464 <>

[11] Bruijn, A., Tanghe, J., Leeuw, R., Engels, R., Anderson, P., Beccaria, F., Bujalski, M., Celata, C., Gosselt, J., Schreckenberg, D. and Słodownik, L., (October 2016), ‘European longitudinal study on the relationship between adolescents’ alcohol marketing exposure and alcohol use.’ Addiction, 111: 10, pp. 1774–1783 <>

[12] Brown, K., (February 2016) ‘Association Between Alcohol Sports Sponsorship and Consumption: A Systematic Review’

[13] WHO Europe (June 2011), ‘European action plan to reduce the harmful use of alcohol 2012–2020’ <>

[14] Eurocare (June 2016) ‘Revision of the EU audio visual media services directive (AVMSD)’ retrieved December 2016 <>