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Alcohol advertising remains prominent in televised sport – Expert Reaction

Posted in Expert Reactions on January 13th, 2017.

Audiences of televised sport remain exposed to high rates of alcohol marketing and sponsorship, according to a new study.

The research, published on Friday in the New Zealand Medical Journal, surveyed televised sports over the 2014-15 summer and found audiences were exposed to between 1.6 and 3.8 alcohol brands per minute.

In an accompanying editorial, Australian researchers wrote that growing up with ubiquitous alcohol advertising and sponsorship could lead children to assume that drinking alcohol was “part of being a good New Zealander”.

The SMC gathered expert reaction on the article, please feel free to use these comments in your reporting. More information about the study is available at scimex.org.

Professor Sally Casswell, Director, Social and Health Outcomes Research and Evaluation (SHORE), Massey University, comments:

“This research provides a timely reminder of the extent to which we allow our children to be exposed to alcohol marketing in the context of watching sporting events. It must be acknowledged this is only a small part of the exposure to alcohol marketing which is rife in many forms of media, including, most insidiously, social media such as Facebook.

“However, the focus on sports sponsorship by alcohol brands and retailers is important in a country like ours which is both strongly engaged with sport and suffers from considerable alcohol-related harm. This combination contributed to both the Law Commission (in 2010) and the subsequent, much delayed, Ministerial Forum on Alcohol Advertising and Sponsorship (in 2014) recommending an immediate ban on sponsorship of sport by alcohol industries.

“The Ministerial Forum was chaired by ex-Rugby League coach Graham Lowe, who was, last year, reported to be ‘deeply saddened’ by a deafening silence from the government in response to the report. Lowe said what he found most startling during the review was evidence of the ‘brainwashing’ effect exposure to alcohol advertising and sponsorship in sport had on children.

“The authors of the New Zealand study examine the arguments commonly made by the vested interests (the representatives of alcohol producers, the advertising industry and the recipients of the bulk of the sponsorship money) and point out experience with banning tobacco sponsorship has shown the way forward for a similar ban on alcohol sponsorship.

“The Law Commission’s review and subsequent Select Committee hearings on alcohol legislation provided the opportunity for New Zealanders to express their concern over alcohol marketing, including sponsorship, and they did so in very large numbers. Similarly, surveys have demonstrated high levels of support for restrictions on alcohol marketing. It remains to be seen if this paper, a further contribution to the considerable research literature documenting the extent and effects of exposure of young people to alcohol marketing, will encourage further debate and even, at last, a response from government.”

Professor Steve Jackson, School of Physical Education, Sport & Exercise Science, University of Otago, comments:

“Ultimately this important study confirms the findings of a growing number of research studies both in New Zealand and internationally. In particular, it confirms the findings of larger NZ-based studies including the 2013 commissioned report for the Health Promotion Agency and the recommendations the authors were invited to present to the Ministry of Health forum on the future of alcohol sponsorship of sport in 2015. Moreover, it also confirms more recent research on the topic.

“In 2011, former PM John Key admitted publicly that NZ has a binge drinking culture but that finding solutions is not easy. He was absolutely right, particularly when the government is unwilling to take bold steps which challenge the alcohol industry and its lobby groups (see Cody & Jackson, 2016).

“The fact is that globally about 60 per cent of all alcohol television advertising spend is directed towards sports programming and the alcohol industry continually seeks to either alter the regulations or find ways to operate within the limit rather than the spirit of existing laws and regulations.

“Like many other businesses, the global alcohol industry is controlled by a small group of increasingly powerful organisations. The global aspects of this problem are important as multinational companies have increasing levels of power and influence over the regulations and laws within nation-states. For example, consider the fact that in 2016 Anheuser-Busch-InBev beer corporation was involved in a $100 billion-plus takeover of rival SABMiller, the biggest corporate acquisition in the history of the industry, “ushering in a new world order for the beer industry”. The transaction made AB-InBev the largest beer corporation in the world, nearly twice the size of its nearest rival Heineken. Needless to say, with this type of type of wealth comes power and corporations are in the business of profit, not public welfare.

“Unfortunately, we are now witnessing the outright abuse of such power. For example, in the lead up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil – FIFA on behalf of its major sponsor – Anheuser-Busch forced the Brazilian government to change its laws in what famously became known as the ‘Budweiser Bill’. Here, a global corporation, in partnership with an international sport organisation forced a national government to remove alcohol sale restrictions that were put in place to protect citizens.

“The bottom line is that there are solutions but it takes courageous and principled politicians that truly value the health and wellbeing of its citizens more than the interests of its corporate backers to introduce change. Sadly, despite overwhelming evidence of the social harm being caused by a lack of regulation of alcohol, little meaningful action has taken place and at this point there is not much cause for optimism where business interests trump the interests of citizens.”

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