Interview: Katherine Brown, director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies

Alcohol industry in many countries can advertise its’ products and sponsor events and organizations, even media. Less visibility of alcohol products and prohibiting advertisements of it can contribute to reduce alcohol consumption and harmful consequences of drinking alcohol. Because youth is exposed to many advertisements of alcohol products, also through movies and music, this was also one of the topics of second European alcohol policy youth conference. Director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies Katherine Brown expressed her opinion about the influence of advertisements of alcohol and presence of alcohol in media on alcohol consumption.  

Alcohol consumption is highest in Europe. Around 120.00 premature deaths in European Union each year is related to harmful use of alcohol. Why are these numbers highest in Europe?

There has been an increased trend towards alcohol consumption in recent years. In many countries alcohol has become an ordinary commodity. Europe has a long history of alcohol within its culture, and is an alcohol-producing region as well. So, where cultural products exist, this could have helped alcohol producers increase their market, for example by associating products with issues like national identity. When there are football competitions in Europe many beer produces will call upon national identity and market their products in association with national football teams in an attempt to gain support and increase sales within countries.

Also the alcohol industry has changed dramatically in the last 20 years with most alcohol products manufactured and produced by one of eight leading global alcohol producers. This globalisation of alcohol brands has made it easier to market products across countries at relatively little cost, which has led to alcohol becoming more accessible and more affordable in many countries.

Last summer during the World Cup in Brazil some countries’ alcohol producers changed the labels of alcoholic beverages to support national team. In some other countries some media was clearly sponsored by alcohol industry and therefore organized some kind of quizzes with awards of alcohol producers’ brands. Not much of these activities had critical response from other media.

I think the high volume of alcohol brand activities in the media around sporting or cultural events is largely to do with alcohol sponsorship of those events, for example Budweiser is a sponsor of the FIFA World Cup. Budweiser would have bought media space and paid for advertising, promotions and competitions to be placed in newspapers as part of this commercial deal. In answer to the question about having critical response to activities, it is important to remember that Big Alcohol is a trillion dollar industry and unfortunately the critical response is going to be coming only from NGOs or public health bodies that have very small recourses. There were some critical opinions in the media particularly about the Brazilian World Cup because FIFA forced the Brazilian government to change their legislation about selling alcohol in football stadiums. Unfortunately, the problem stays the same, alcohol industry has a lot more money and a lot more power because of it and that often overshadows the opposite side of an argument.

Do you think alcohol being present in media through different sponsorships and advertisements has an important effect on youth and also on other people, their perception of alcohol and drinking?

Alcohol advertising and media promotions have a big impact on young people. All of the evidence suggests that if young people are exposed to alcohol promotion they are more likely to drink at an earlier age and to increase their drinking, if they already drink. The prevalence of alcohol messaging in the media is also worrying, because it normalizes alcohol as an everyday product and it desensitizes the general population, people of all ages, to alcohol marketing.  Alcohol is seen as a normal everyday consumer good that can be popped in the shopping basket along with milk, bread and cheese, so the normalization of alcohol that marketing creates is also a big problem. Another big problem is that there are a many people who have alcohol problems, addiction problems and if they are trying to recover from that addiction, to abstain from alcohol to get better, it’s very difficult for them to achieve this is a world where alcohol messages are everywhere. You can’t walk down the street without being drawn to a bar or seeing a billboard or seeing a TV advert. That is very difficult, to have temptation put in their path every day, when they are trying to get better. What we need is restrictions on alcohol advertising and these restrictions should be designed to protect children and young people from developing alcohol problems, but also to protect the people that have alcohol problems and are trying to recover from them.

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