Health’s hysteria on ads is ominous

The anti-alcohol lobby won’t be satisfied until drinkers are pariahs

Beer and crisps: an unexpected battlefield in the war against alcohol

“PUBS could be fined for not serving salads… Has the pie and beans had its chips?”

It’s an all-time favourite newspaper headline of licensing lawyers – generated by a throwaway comment at a conference back in 2004.

A speaker who was discussing the ramifications of the soon-to-be-introduced public health licensing objective made a whimsical remark about the impact on pub food… and an Evening Times journalist in the audience saw an opportunity for a front page splash.

That story came straight back to mind last month when Gary Lineker was lambasted for appearing as a barman in a 20-second advert promoting a new type of snack – Walker’s Strong Max crisps – and featuring Foster’s lager.

Lineker tells viewers that the product is a “beer magnet” and “perfect with a pint”.

The advert – only available on YouTube with age verification – turned out to be a feast for public health campaigners when it was discussed at a conference organised by Alcohol Focus Scotland (AFS) and Obesity Action Scotland (OAS) calling for the protection of children from alcohol and junk food marketing.

For Alcohol Focus Scotland, the advert was “irresponsible” because children should not be exposed to the promotion of alcohol linking beer and crisps.

Professor Maria Piacentini, from Lancaster University, one of the conference speakers, wasn’t able to suggest that the advert was targeted at children, but she certainly came very close.

According to the Daily Express, she said that Foster’s was “piggybacking” on the humour and value associated with the Walker’s brand “with children the unintended – if we are feeling generous – recipients of the message”.

In this Orwellian world, alcohol would be airbrushed from the public realm.

Where is this sort of campaigning intended to lead?

Eliminating children’s exposure to alcohol marketing can only be achieved by a total ban. That is, of course, a declared AFS objective.

The publicly-funded charity has already called for an embargo on advertising in places such as streets, parks, sports grounds and on public transport, the end of alcohol sponsorship of sports, music and cultural events, and restrictions on adverts on TV and social networking sites.

In this Orwellian world, alcohol would be airbrushed from the public realm.

But… just a second… isn’t that exactly what happened to tobacco?

Yet again it’s evident that temperance campaigners have been using that model in an attempt to secure their aims. And might it just be a matter of time before society is encouraged to treat drinkers as pariahs – just like smokers?

Let’s take the Lineker row a stage further. According to AFS, exposure to alcohol marketing reduces the age at which young people start to drink, increases the likelihood that they will drink and increases the amount of alcohol they will consume once they have started to drink.

That’s pretty much a classic case of stacking one bald assertion on top of another until you get to the desired result and present it as a fact.

We’ve already heard researchers claim that parents’ alcohol consumption in the company of their children – even at moderate levels – has the potential to “upset” them because it might, for example, cause a shift in their bedtime.

In fact, it might even destabilise their upbringing.

A ban on at-home drinking when youngsters are present is of course fantastical – although there are no doubt some who would welcome such a measure – but what about restricting ‘exposure’ to alcohol consumption by adults through licensing?

Sadly, I’m already seeing evidence that some licensing boards are taking a regressive position on under 18s access to pubs, cafés and restaurants – even taking decisions that don’t align with their current policy statements.

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Jack Cummins is one of Scotland’s leading licensing lawyers. Every month he writes on licensing law and answers readers’ questions in SLTN.

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Jack Cummins is unable to enter into personal correspondence on readers’ questions. The advice offered in SLTN is published for information only. No responsibility for loss occasioned by persons acting or refraining from action as a result of material contained in SLTN can be accepted by the author or publisher.