Cummins – Ad ban plan is ‘an all-out nuclear attack on alcohol’

CHRISTMAS came early for the anti-alcohol lobbyists, writes Jack Cummins

Last November the Scottish Government published a 63-page consultation document on ‘restricting alcohol advertising and promotion’.

It’s remarkable in its scope – an all-out nuclear attack on alcohol and alcohol retailing, ticking just about every conceivable box in the campaigners’ wish list.

According to Maree Todd’s ministerial foreword, it’s hoped that the curbs ‘will reduce the appeal of alcohol to our young people’ and reduce the ‘triggering’ effect of marketing on problem drinkers and those in recovery.

Let’s start with sports sponsorship. We could see the disappearance of pitch-side alcohol advertising hoardings and a ban on alcohol brand logos on interview boards, along with a raft of other measures. The potential repercussions for Scottish sports teams playing in European competitions is plain.

Events sponsorship is also in the firing line. The detail here is rather sparse, but according to the consultation, “techniques are likely to mirror those used in sports sponsorship”, potentially driving “the visibility and appeal of alcohol” and generating “pro-alcohol attitudes in children and young people”.

The push to airbrush alcohol from the public realm continues with proposals to outlaw advertising on vehicles, in public spaces and in print media produced in Scotland.

The sale or free distribution of branded merchandise is yet another target: T-shirts, jackets, baseball caps, glasses and mugs – ‘walking billboards’ we are told.

Leaving no stone unturned, there’s a particularly ambitious plan to banish paid online advertising – on websites, via pop ups, on social media platforms – even on search engines.

Television and radio and cinema advertising may also be restricted or prohibited.

The purge may even embrace non-alcoholic drinks where the branding is similar to that of an alcoholic counterpart: Gordon’s 0.0 alcohol-free gin, for example.

Of course, the off-trade is set for a very rough ride. The expression ‘alcohol is the new tobacco’ has been around for a while – and here’s the tobacco playbook in action again, with the possible introduction of ‘closed display cases’. Window displays look likely to be a thing of the past; and the ‘structural separation’ of alcohol could result in barriers and the location of displays near the back of shops, away from entrances, exits or checkouts.

Supermarkets and convenience stores would face expensive challenges in reconfiguring shop floor layouts, and, unless the government has another avenue in mind, licensing board approval would be required for changes to premises licence layout plans – inundating boards with floods of variation applications.

For the time being, it seems that the on-trade will be spared a direct hit. But consider this analysis. Part of the policy intention underpinning the proposals is to reduce the ‘visibility’ of alcohol – thought to impact negatively on children and young persons.

Where might this end? If youngsters need to be shielded from simply seeing alcohol products and must be protected from alcohol marketing, what about exposure to alcohol consumption in a licensed setting?

A few years ago I encountered health board opposition to a client’s restaurant application seeking access by children and young persons, on the breathtaking basis that the ‘normalisation’ of alcohol could see the development of alcohol-related problems in later life.

On a few occasions, outdoor drinking applications have attracted objections simply because children passing by would see customers consuming alcohol.

I also recall a report a while back suggesting that children might be ‘upset’ by their parents’ drinking, even when alcohol was being consumed at moderate levels.

The anti-alcohol campaigners have a rapacious appetite; and the day might yet come when on-sales premises face a tightening of controls on the admission of under-18s.

That may sound far-fetched but looking at what’s in the immediate pipeline, I’d rule nothing out.

The restrictions will feature in the government’s current legislative programme and you can access the consultation – closing on 9th March – in the publications section of the website.