In a bid to tackle the "soaring cost" of alcohol-related harm, particularly in young people, the British Medical Association (BMA) has called for a total ban on alcohol advertising, including sports events and music festival sponsorship, as well as an end to all promotional deals like happy hours, two-for-one purchases and ladies' free entry nights.
A new BMA report, Under the Influence, launched yesterday (Tuesday 8 September 2009) also renews the call for other tough measures such as a minimum price per unit on alcoholic drinks and for them to be taxed higher than the rate of inflation.
Dr Vivienne Nathanson, Head of BMA Science and Ethics, said: "Our society is awash with pro-alcohol messaging and marketing. In treating this we need to look beyond young people and at society as a whole."
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), alcohol is the leading risk factor for premature death and disability in developed countries after tobacco and blood pressure. It is related to more than 60 medical conditions, costs the NHS millions of pounds every year and is linked to crime and domestic abuse.
Alcohol consumption in the UK has increased rapidly in recent years – for example, household expenditure on all alcoholic drinks increased by 81% between 1992 and 2006. At the same time, says the author of the report, Professor Gerard Hastings, never before has alcohol been so heavily promoted.
He says: "Given the alcohol industry spends £800m a year in promoting alcohol in the UK, it is no surprise that children and young people see it everywhere – on TV, in magazines, on billboards, as part of music festivals or football sponsorship deals, on internet pop-ups and on social networking sites.
"Given adolescents often dislike the taste of alcohol, new products like alcopops and toffee vodka are developed and promoted, as they have greater appeal to young people.
"All these promotional activities serve to normalise alcohol as an essential part of every day life. It is no surprise that young people are drawn to alcohol."
Dr Nathanson said: "When the BMA initially called for a ban on smoking in all enclosed public places there were outcries but I doubt most people would want to return to the days of smoky pubs now. This shows that behaviour can change and this needs to happen with alcohol consumption."
Brand development and stakeholder marketing by the alcohol industry, including partnership working and industry funded health education, has served the needs of the alcohol industry, not public health, says the report.
Dr Nathanson added: "We have a perverse situation where the alcohol industry is advising our governments about alcohol reduction policies. As with tobacco, putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop – or at least putting him on a par with the farmer – is a dangerous idea.
"Politicians showed courage before by not bowing to the tobacco industry, they need to do the same now and make tough decisions that will not please alcohol companies."