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Alcohol ads commonly appeal to under-age adolescents – study

Josie Clarke, PA Consumer Affairs Correspondent
·3-min read

Adverts for alcohol commonly appeal to young people who are under the legal drinking age, a study has found.

A survey of those aged 11 to 17 found just over half reacted positively to adverts featuring Fosters Radler beer and Smirnoff vodka brands (53% and 52% respectively), and a third (34%) reacted positively to an advert featuring the Haig Club whisky brand, the study by the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS), published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism, found.

Among adolescents who had never drunk alcohol, associations were seen between positive reactions to the adverts and susceptibility to drink in the next year.

Among approximately 1,500 adolescents who had never drunk alcohol, having a positive reaction to each of the adverts was associated with around one and a half times increased odds of being susceptible to drink in the next year.

Among approximately 900 current drinkers, positive reactions to two of the three adverts were associated with around 1.4 times increased odds of being a higher risk drinker.

Researchers said that while the study did not set out to prove a causal link between reactions to the adverts and alcohol use, the findings tied in with other evidence that had established underage adolescents’ awareness of alcohol marketing as well as links between marketing exposure and subsequent alcohol use.

The findings have led the IAS to call for UK policymakers to consider tighter alcohol advertising legislation.

The IAS said that although only three adverts were used in the study, they were not in breach of the UK marketing codes and were therefore typical of alcohol advertising.

It concluded that “in that light, the finding that these adverts commonly appealed to under-age adolescents indicates there may be weaknesses in the regulatory codes themselves, their implementation, or both, and ultimately contributes to wider concerns about complaints-led self-regulatory approaches”.

Dr Sadie Boniface, head of research at the IAS and lead author of the study, said: “We already knew that exposure to alcohol marketing is high among young people.

“We wanted to build on other studies that spoke directly to young people about their views, taking advantage of the large number of adolescents in this study. Based on what we know from other research, it was not a surprise that these adverts commonly appealed to young people.

“The association between positive reactions to the adverts and being susceptible to drink among under-age adolescents who have never tried alcohol is of particular concern. This was consistent for each of the three adverts studied.

“Taken together with other research, there is strong evidence the current UK alcohol marketing regulations are inadequate in protecting young people from being exposed to content that does appeal to them and influences their behaviour.”

Advertising Association chief executive Stephen Woodford said: “We fully support the current rules in place and the need to protect children and young people from the potential harms of underage consumption, while at the same time allowing brands the freedom to market products to the adult audiences that are their target.

“Alcohol consumption among young people is, in fact, declining, as shown by a study from UCL which demonstrated that the proportion of 16 to 24-year-olds who don’t drink alcohol increased from 18% in 2005 to 29% in 2015.”

The researchers analysed the responses of 2,500 people aged 11 to 17 in the Youth Alcohol Policy Survey carried out by YouGov for Cancer Research UK in April and May 2017.