An avalanche of alcohol ads is coming, and there’s little protection for children
How does it affect young people?
The report distils evidence from 30 years of research involving tens of thousands of young people showing that greater exposure to alcohol advertising and sponsorship leads to earlier alcohol initiation, and more harmful drinking. In short, there's a dose response.
According to report co-author Professor O’Brien, “sport is the leading single entertainment genre for marketing alcohol to children and young people, and research shows advertising and sponsorship in sport is highly effective in influencing children and young people’s attitudes toward alcohol, and their drinking”.
While the impacts on health from allowing exposure to alcohol marketing and sponsorship are quite clear, the impact of preventing exposure is equally clear. In countries with strong laws and regulations to restrict alcohol marketing, there are lower rates of harmful alcohol use.
The public health rationale for protecting children and young people from alcohol advertising is simple, but often ignored. Drinking at a young age poses short-term risks to their health (for example, injury, and accidental death), as well as serious long-term consequences (such as brain damage and developmental problems).
Tobacco advertising was banned in Australia decades ago, but alcohol advertising has continued unfettered.
Australian children’s exposure to alcohol advertising through online and digital media is rapidly increasing, but exposure remains highest through traditional media such as television, and sport sponsorship.
The pandemic has shown us the importance of clean environments when it comes to infectious disease, but what about healthy environments to prevent NCDs? The return of the NRL saw XXXX cardboard spectators (above a gambling ad no less). We need to end alcohol advertising in sport.
In a single year, Australia’s children and adolescents experience more than 50 million exposures to alcohol advertising through telecasts of the three major national sporting codes (AFL, NRL, cricket). Alcohol advertisements within these three sports represent 60 per cent of all alcohol advertising in televised sport.
How can Australia protect young people from alcohol advertising?
Australia urgently needs stronger restrictions on alcohol advertising and sponsorship to protect children and young people. Internationally, our regulatory controls on alcohol marketing are among the weakest.
The majority of Australians (approximately 70 per cent), and particularly parents (80 per cent), support stronger restrictions on alcohol advertising and sponsorship. Hence, policymakers should anticipate a substantial amount of public support if stronger restrictions were implemented.
The evidence base suggests that there are several effective ways for protecting children and young people from exposure to alcohol advertising, two of which stand out as the most obvious and practical next steps for Australia.
First, we need bans on TV alcohol advertising at times when children are known to be watching, especially during sports programs, where alcohol ads are currently permitted at any time on weekends (including Friday evenings).
Second, we need to get alcohol sponsorship out of sport. There are good examples to follow from other countries (such as France and Ireland), as well as Australia’s own success in removing tobacco sponsorship from sport.