In this month’s alert
How alcohol companies used gendered norms to sell more product
In our podcast this month we spoke to Dr Amanda Atkinson of Liverpool John Moores University about gendered alcohol marketing. Among other things, we discussed:
- The gendered tactics alcohol companies use to promote their products
- Why this is worse than other product-based companies using similar tactics
- And what Dr Atkinson would do if she had control over the UK’s alcohol marketing regulations
For further information, read Dr Atkinson’s IAS blog here.
New Chancellor reverses the freeze on alcohol duty
In late September, then Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng froze alcohol duty in his ‘mini budget’. Since then, both he and then Prime Minister Liz Truss have been forced to resign due to the financial turmoil the budget created.
The new Chancellor Jeremy Hunt – who was appointed by Truss before she resigned and has been kept on by new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak – reversed almost everything from the mini budget, including the freezing of alcohol duty. This means that alcohol duty will go up in line with inflation.
Making alcohol less affordable by raising alcohol duty is one of the key price-based mechanisms to reduce alcohol consumption and harm, as laid out by the World Health Organization.
IAS’ Dr Alison Giles welcomed the news, which will bring an additional £600 million into the Treasury:
“It is excellent news that the Chancellor is no longer planning to freeze alcohol duty rates this year. Evidence shows that successive freezes over the past decade have led to increased alcohol-related hospitalisation and death, and have cost the Treasury billions.
“Raising duty disproportionately increases the cost of supermarket alcohol over alcohol sold in pubs and restaurants, therefore reducing the cost differential and providing essential support to the hospitality industry.
“This announcement supports an evidence-based approach to alcohol harm reduction and will ultimately save lives across the UK.”
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA), called for an independent review on alcohol harm and said:
“We are hopeful that this represents the start of a new approach to alcohol harm from the Government, with the enormous costs from alcohol harm better offset with fairer duty policies. Alcohol duty helps to save lives, reduce hospital admissions, prevent crime, and boost the economy, and it is heartening to see Government recognise its importance.”
The hospitality and alcohol industry was quick to criticise the decision, with the head of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, Miles Beale, stating that:
“Raising taxes is not only bad news for consumers worried about the cost of living, but also stifles growth and innovation for British businesses trying to recover from the pandemic and supply chain issues.
“History has shown that freezing alcohol duty does not have a negative impact on Treasury coffers. We look forward to discussing our concerns with Treasury officials.”
Following Rishi Sunak becoming Prime Minister, the Scotch Whisky Association were quick to argue that “Time after time, duty freezes on spirits have increased government revenue contrary to what the Treasury’s forecasts have predicted.”
This slightly strange argument has been rebuked by economist Dr Aveek Bhattacharya in an IAS blog where he explained that:
“Laffer curve arguments have been used for decades by the deluded or self-serving to cut taxes. They should not be taken seriously when it comes to alcohol duty.”
Alcohol could replace junk food in front of stores after HFSS restrictions
According to a Telegraph article, new rules banning junk food and drink from the front of stores “are expected to result in supermarkets filling displays at the front of the stores with beer, wine and champagne this Christmas”.
As part of the Obesity Strategy, from this month food and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) are to be banned from prominent front of store positions, to discourage purchasing.
The Alcohol Health Alliance has previously called on the Government to include alcohol as a “less healthy food or drink” which would mean it was included in restrictions on HFSS products, therefore meaning it would be included in this front of shop ban.
It has already been reported that off-fixture displays containing alcoholic drinks have surged by 57% year on year this month due to the HFSS restrictions.
Prof Sir Ian Gilmore said that displaying alcohol at the front of shops “normalises and glamorises an age-restricted, health-harming product to children and young people”.
Dr Alison Giles said this would “clearly be a perverse outcome that a move to improve public health could lead to alcohol now being promoted in place of junk food and drink. Research has shown that products placed at the end of aisles and near checkouts have disproportionately high sales. Strategically placed alcohol in supermarkets is designed to increase purchasing and consumption, which subsequently leads to an increase in harm.”
Alcohol Change UK called for supermarkets to keep alcohol in one section of the store only and commit to not selling it below a certain price. Chief executive Richard Piper said:
“Although millions of people drink regularly, the truth is that alcohol is both dangerous and addictive. We need everyone, including retailers, to play their part to reduce alcohol harm.”
Northern Ireland sees joint highest alcohol-specific deaths in 2021
Northern Ireland saw 350 alcohol-specific deaths in 2021, almost 54% higher than the number recorded 10 years ago, with figures continuing to rise each year since recording began in 2001.
64% of the deaths were male and 63% of deaths were in the age group 45-64. 70% of the deaths were due to liver disease.
The report states that as deprivation increases, so does the rate of alcohol-specific deaths:
“This is demonstrated by looking at the most recent five years together (2017 to 2021). There were almost four times as many alcohol-specific deaths in the most deprived areas compared to the least deprived areas.”
Brutal public spending cuts will lead to increases in health inequalities
On 18 October, Professor Michael Marmot wrote in the BMJ that Jeremy Hunt’s economic approach may well be a return to austerity, with brutal cuts to public spending. He says if it is, we should expect further damage to the public’s health and increases in health inequalities.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has repeatedly spoken of how he needs to make “difficult decisions”, which is widely seen as meaning public spending cuts.
Marmot says it looks like the Government “would rather trust its libertarian instincts than plan public health policy on the basis of evidence, such as a sugar tax to combat obesity, or other interventions to encourage health behaviours”.
He says whether or not the Government produces a disparities white paper, the two things we should want is a Government whose plans work and that is devoted to the common good, including greater equity of health and living sustainably. Marmot says “Neither looks likely”.
“In the end, it is not the presence or absence of a disparities white paper that should concern us. More worrying is a government, fixated on growth in GDP, with apparent complete lack of concern either for the health of the planet or for a fair distribution of health and wellbeing in the population.”
Alcohol industry body taught Irish children against health department rules
Drinkaware Ireland, whose funders include Diageo, Bulmers Ireland, and Heineken, confirmed that 15,000 first-year to third-year students have gone through its school programme to date.
This is against the advice of the Health Service Executive (HSE) and the Department of Health, who both maintain schools should not get involved with alcohol-funded initiatives.
Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall raised the issue with Education Minister Norma Foley, who, Shortall said, “completely dodged the question and passed the buck to schools and teachers.”
Taoiseach (prime minister) Micheál Martin responded to say that schools should get resources from the HSE and public health agencies to educate pupils. He said:
“I don’t think the drinks industry should be near schools in respect of anything to do with addiction generally. And I think many of the schools are probably entering in good faith.”
Sheena Horgan, CEO of Drinkaware, said the charity was “funded, not run by” the alcohol industry. She called on the HSE, the Department of Health, and the Department of Education to meet with them so they could discuss the “primary preventative programme” which had been provided to schools to “fill the gap” in education.
The Irish Community Action on Alcohol Network launched a petition calling on Drinkaware Ireland to cease all activity relating to schools-based education in Ireland. You can sign the campaign here.
Australia sees highest alcohol-specific deaths in 10 years
Alcohol-specific deaths in Australia are at their highest rate in a decade. The report, by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows 1,559 people died during the year, and that:
“For males, the rate is the highest in the 10-year time series at 8.3 deaths per 100,000 people (8.1% increase since 2020). The rate for females remained the same as in 2020.”
The CEO of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (Fare), Caterina Giorgi, said:
“During the pandemic, we have seen alcoholic products being heavily promoted by alcohol companies and marketed as a way to cope with the stresses and pressures being faced by families. We should not forget that behind these numbers and statistics are real people – our family members, our friends, our community.”
At a similar time, FARE – along with over 50 organisations – called on Netflix to exclude alcohol advertising from its new ad-supported platform (launching 03 November).
The company has already made the decision to exclude gambling ads and limit marketing that children are exposed to.
French hunters angry about potential ban on drinking while hunting
The French Senate has made recommendations that would mean hunters would be subject to the same blood alcohol limits as motorists while on hunts. French hunters have reacted angrily to the idea.
The hunting lobby said its members are being stigmatised and caricatured and that 91% of breathalyser tests after hunting incidents are negative.
The recommendation was prompted after a petition called for stricter hunting rules, following the death of Morgan Keane, a British national. Keane was chopping wood and was shot dead by a hunter who said he mistook him for a wild boar.
A cross-party committee sat more than 100 times and went out on a hunt during its inquiry, in order to examine a range of safety issues including the validating of hunting permits, the conditions for obtaining a gun, the shared use of outdoor space and the punishment for infringing rules.
The National Hunters’ Federation said they denounce “a catalogue of measures that are totally against the practice of popular hunting, with measures that are frankly useless because they have already been implemented by the hunters’ federations.”
Scotland in “collective denial” over harmful effects of alcohol
The Alcohol Action Group, established by Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs (SFAD), carried out surveys with people and families harmed by alcohol, to look at the presence and visibility of alcohol in their homes, communities and online.
The group recorded each reference to alcohol, including direct advertising, alcohol products, and alcohol-themed merchandise such as birthday cards. In the survey report it states that the first survey of 35 people noted over 350 references to alcohol and in the second survey of 28 people they found over 199 alcohol references.
The most references to alcohol were seen in littered objects (27%), followed by references on TV and online (both 17%).
Justina Murray, CEO of SFAD, said:
“This research confirms that alcohol products, branding and merchandise appear absolutely everywhere you look in our homes and communities.
“The people who carried out this research – many of whom have been personally harmed by alcohol – didn’t need to make any great effort to find alcohol references. Alcohol has been normalised to such an extent that we are now in a state of collective denial about the harm it causes to our families and communities.”
UK MPs agree that alcohol consumption and harm must be addressed
Independent MP Margaret Ferrier brought the debate and discussed alcohol’s role in liver disease, stating that there is a heavy stigma attached to alcohol-related liver disease and that we need to look at alcohol dependency, by increasing support services and supporting patients to make positive lifestyle changes.
Conservative MP Peter Gibson agreed, stating that alcohol harm is higher in poorer areas, and that to ‘level up’ we need to both increase healthy life expectancy and narrow its gap between socioeconomic groups.
DUP MP Jim Shannon pointed out that liver disease is often avoidable and that Government has a responsibility to teach young people about alcohol harm.
Labour and Co-op MP Rachael Maskell called for a comprehensive alcohol strategy to address the “off the radar” alcohol harm in the UK. She argued that it must be a Government priority:
In response, health minister Dr Caroline Johnson said she recognises the importance of addressing alcohol consumption and mentioned some of the harms, going on to say that the NHS has invested £27 million in alcohol care teams in hospitals and that there has been increased funding via the drug strategy.
Alcohol Toolkit Study: update
The monthly data collected is from English households and began in March 2014. Each month involves a new representative sample of approximately 1,700 adults aged 16 and over.
Prevalence of increasing and higher risk drinking (AUDIT-C)
Increasing and higher risk drinking defined as those scoring >4 AUDIT-C. A-C1: Professional to clerical occupation C2-E: Manual occupation
Currently trying to restrict consumption
A-C1: Professional to clerical occupation C2-E: Manual occupation; Question: Are you currently trying to restrict your alcohol consumption e.g. by drinking less, choosing lower strength alcohol or using smaller glasses? Are you currently trying to restrict your alcohol consumption e.g. by drinking less, choosing lower strength alcohol or using smaller glasses?
Serious past-year attempts to cut down or stop
Question 1: How many attempts to restrict your alcohol consumption have you made in the last 12 months (e.g. by drinking less, choosing lower strength alcohol or using smaller glasses)? Please include all attempts you have made in the last 12 months, whether or not they were successful, AND any attempt that you are currently making. Q2: During your most recent attempt to restrict your alcohol consumption, was it a serious attempt to cut down on your drinking permanently? A-C1: Professional to clerical occupation C2-E: Manual occupation
Our monthly podcast features interviews with experts from across the sector.
Dr Aalaa Jawad –
Public Health Registrar
Susan Taylor – Head of Alcohol Policy, Balance