Alcohol advertising and promotions are prolific in Australia and presented through a variety of media, including print media, broadcast (including television and radio), digital media (including SMS text messaging, websites and social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter), merchandising, sponsorship of sporting and cultural events and product placement. Nowhere is off limits when it comes to alcohol promotion and marketing.
Alcohol promotion and marketing is regulated by an industry self-regulatory code, the Alcohol Beverages Advertising (and Packaging) Code (ABAC). The ABAC specifies that alcohol advertising must not encourage irresponsible consumption, infer that its consumption will change mood and/or contribute to financial, social and sexual success or have evident appeal to young people.
The volume of alcohol advertising young people are exposed to has been demonstrated to impact on their future alcohol consumption behaviour.
A review of 12 longitudinal studies of over 38,000 young people has shown that the volume of alcohol advertising they are exposed to influences the age that they start drinking as well as their consumption levels. This review demonstrated that the more alcohol advertising that young people are exposed to, the earlier they will start to drink, and the more they will consume if they already drink.
International evidence also shows that in countries with stricter alcohol advertising regulations there is a lower prevalence of hazardous drinking.
Leading health authorities, including the World Health Organization and the Australian Medical Association, as well as international scientific reviews, recommend restrictions on alcohol marketing as part of a comprehensive approach to reducing alcohol‐related harms.
Clear policy objectives are needed for the regulation of alcohol advertising. FARE has developed five principles for the regulation of alcohol advertising and recommends that these principles be prioritised and adopted in alcohol advertising regulation in Australia:
- Alcohol advertising regulation must aim to reduce the overall volume of alcohol advertising.
- Alcohol advertising regulation must ensure that activities are not targeted at young people and are not in places where children and young people are present.
- Alcohol advertising regulation must cover all communication formats including advertising, sponsorship, and print and digital, including social media.
- Alcohol advertising must be independently regulated and have clear and consistent penalties for non-compliance.
- The alcohol industry should be required to report their annual expenditure on alcohol marketing activities to government to inform future policy directions.
In the longer term, the Australian Government should model legislative bans on alcohol advertising on the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992 (Cth). This Act comprehensively imposes restrictions on the broadcasting and publishing of tobacco advertisements, and provides a precedent for this to occur for alcohol products.