Children call for widespread alcohol advertising bans

Marketing of alcoholic drinks needs to be restricted, including at sporting events and on holiday, according to research conducted by children.

Members of the Children’s Parliament in Scotland found that young people are being frequently exposed to alcohol through marketing, as well as in shops and at home. As a result, they feel “unsafe and ignored”.

Nine investigators – experienced members of the Children’s Parliament aged 9 to 11 – facilitated workshops about alcohol with more than 90 of their peers.

The children described alcohol as being highly visible throughout their day, including in the home, in the community, on the streets, in shops, next to bins, in parks, on public transport, at sports games, festivals, in airports and train stations, and in hotels.

“No one asks us about alcohol and suddenly when you think about it, you realise it’s all around you all the time,” said one 10-year-old involved in the project.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, which asked the Children’s Parliament to explore the issue, said: “As adults we tend to assume that as an age-restricted product children don’t really notice alcohol advertising or people drinking. What this work has shown us for the first time is how often children are seeing alcohol – from opening the fridge at breakfast time, throughout the day in shops and on billboards to in their homes and on TV at night – and the negative effects it can have on their wellbeing.”

Amongst the more concerning findings was the level of awareness and knowledge of alcohol branding and advertising children seem to have. Some discussed certain brands, logos and even their advertising strategies.  A number of specific brands were also reflected in the pictures the children drew.

The schoolchildren also recognised that adverts can be harmful to children as they promote alcohol to be something “desirable, exciting and cool”, which might encourage adults to drink more whilst also making it appealing to children to drink in the future.

Members of the Children’s Parliament – which gives young people the opportunity to voice their ideas and feelings – have called for alcohol to be made less visible in shops and on TV. They want billboards with alcohol adverts to be removed, and there to be no alcohol sponsorship of events at which children are present.

Instead, marketing budgets should be used to spread “positive messages” with adverts that feature children talking about their experiences and feelings.

The children also called for more bins in public spaces and for hotel minibars not to include alcohol. Adults should also reconsider all-inclusive holiday packages that include alcohol. Laws that make it illegal to consume alcohol or to possess an open container in public spaces should also be expanded nationwide.

“For children, an ‘alcohol-free childhood’ is a childhood free from the constant presence of alcohol and alcohol-related harm; a world where children’s human rights are understood and respected by all; and where children and adults are healthy, happy, safe and loved,” the report reads.

The research comes at a time when the Scottish Government has committed to incorporating children’s human rights into law.

The government’s Alcohol Framework 2018, published last year, also pledged to ensure the voices of children and young people are at the heart of developing preventative measures on alcohol in Scotland. The Framework includes proposals to consult on alcohol marketing such as public spaces and online.

“We will consult and engage on the appropriateness of a range of potential measures, including mandatory restrictions on alcohol marketing, as recommended by the World Health Organization, to protect children and young people from alcohol marketing in Scotland,” the Framework reads.

The UK Government will also be pressed to impose a 9pm watershed for alcohol advertising on TV. Restrictions on advertising in cinemas are also being planned. Alcohol producers will also be urged to put health information on labels, and the current minimum unit price of 50p will be reviewed after May 1st 2020.

“The Children’s Parliament investigators have done a great job in capturing and sharing the experiences of many of their peers, providing a unique and sobering insight which will help to inform the proposals for our consultation on restrictions to alcohol marketing issuing next spring,” said public health minister Joe FitzPatrick.

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