Alcohol advertising ban: Proposed crackdowns described as 'blunt instrument' amid new report in wake of letter signed by Budweiser and Tennent's

Proposed crackdowns on alcohol marketing and advertising have been described as a “blunt instrument” that could damage the sector as a new report claims the alcohol industry costs the economy roughly the same amount as it generates.

Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), a partnership of the Medical Royal Colleges in Scotland and the Faculty of Public Health, wants the level of marketing of alcohol in Scotland to come down, saying it believed this would reduce the economic and societal harms associated with alcohol.

The report posits the alcohol industry costs the economy – in terms of impact on public services, productivity and the value of lives lost to alcohol – roughly the same amount as it generates for the economy.

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But Scottish Conservative shadow minister for business, trade, tourism and enterprise Jamie Halcro Johnston said: “It’s vital that action is taken to tackle alcohol dependency, but the proposed advertising ban is a blunt instrument that threatens to do huge damage to industry while doing little to tackle consumption by problem drinkers.

Following MUP in May 2018, it is feared some small retailers will not survive the latest proposals being considered.
Following MUP in May 2018, it is feared some small retailers will not survive the latest proposals being considered.
Following MUP in May 2018, it is feared some small retailers will not survive the latest proposals being considered.

“The focus of the Scottish Government’s strategy should be on treatment for those problem drinkers with addiction issues. That’s why the Scottish Conservatives’ Right to Recovery Bill is so essential – as it would enshrine in law everyone’s right to receive the treatment they need."

He added: “A blanket ban on alcohol advertising threatens to do huge damage to the Scottish economy and jobs of people. This press release seems to suggest 30,000 hospitality jobs are somehow less important because they are relatively low paid. Try telling that to those whose livelihoods depend on the industry.”

In November, the Scottish Government launched a consultation on a range of measures to restrict alcohol advertising and promotion. The proposals could lead to a ban on alcohol advertising outdoors.

In response, firms including Lanson Champagne, Diageo and Whyte & Mackay have joined Budweiser and Tennent's in signing an open letter to Holyrood ministers, saying: "Don't destroy Scotland's drinks industry."

More than 100 drinks firms from across Scotland have put their names to the letter. They insist this "could not have come at a worse time for our sector, and the many thousands we employ", with the drinks industry having "suffered hard through the Covid years", while the cost-of-living crisis "threatens the very existence" of some firms.

The SHAAP partnership, which is based at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, has published the new study conducted by the Westminster-based think tank, the Social Market Foundation.

“It is essential that action is taken to prevent alcohol harms and one of the key ways to do this is by limiting the number of nudges we are subject to via marketing by alcohol companies,” a SHAAP spokesperson.

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“We need to focus on this and the Scottish Government’s role is to balance any legitimate concerns by the tourism industry with the urgent need to reduce the number of people living with alcohol problems.”

The report’s authors state that 4.9 per cent of the Scottish economy – £8.1 billion – can be attributed to the sale of alcohol, around 60 per cent of which comes from whisky exports.

They also concluded Scots drink considerably more wine, beer and vodka than whisky, with the research claiming 99 per cent of the whisky produced in Scotland is exported to other countries.

Around half of the 60,000 Scottish jobs related to alcohol are in pubs, bars and restaurants, says the report’s authors, which SHAAP says are “some of the lowest paying jobs in the economy”.

Asked whether SHAAP was implying hospitality jobs mattered less because they were not well paid, a SHAAP spokesperson said: “When assertions are made about the alcohol industry and the benefits it may bring to the Scottish economy, we need to be clear about what this means in reality … while the sale of alcohol accounts for 4.9 per cent of the Scottish economy, the economic and societal costs resulting from alcohol harms in Scotland is thought to be similar in size, so there’s an economic imperative to reduce alcohol harms and the resulting costs.”

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