Michael Thorn. The Australian cricket captain says its about the brand and not alcohol.

Jan 9, 2016

Repost from 24/09/2015

Premier Mike Baird’s public comments at last week’s Thomas Kelly Foundation event in Sydney wasn’t the first time he has questioned the extent of alcohol advertising in this country, particularly its strong association with big sport.

Baird made the self-evident point that such alcohol advertising has become omni-present and spoke about the need to reduce its presence.

I find it quite an incredible position where the captain of our cricket team sits there with a big VB on the middle [of his chest],” Mr Baird said.

It would be a fair bet that there were more than few alcohol industry, advertising and sporting corporate types on the phone to the Premier’s office the next morning to set him straight.

Indeed, Australian Cricket Captain Steve Smith was sent out to face the media and, attempting to play a dead bat, suggested that “we’re promoting the brand, not the consumption of alcohol”.

Which would be all well and good if the two were not so inextricably linked.

I dearly hope Mike Baird continues to be engaged in this issue because his leadership will be important for an issue most Australian’s want changed.

The problem with alcohol advertising is threefold.

First, child and adolescent exposure to alcohol advertising is associated with earlier initiation of drinking and greater consumption among existing drinkers.

Second, alcohol advertising targets children. The industry does this because unless new drinkers are recruited they are out of business.

Third, and most importantly, alcohol advertising confirms and reinforces the cultural norm about alcohol’s place in our society and overwhelms health and medical efforts to change this.

It also fosters unhealthy politico-corporate behaviour. Time and again political leaders are either captured by these vested interests or too weak to resist their overtures. History is littered with examples of these private corporate interests being placed ahead of the public interest.

These interests have enormous power, which they aren’t afraid to use. It takes a special kind of political leader to stand up to these corporate bullies.

But the research evidence about the pervasiveness of alcohol advertising is clear. It is considerable in its breadth and it volume; and big sport, advertisers and the media barons are completely attached to the steady financial drip.

New research from Monash University’s Professor Kerry O’Brien shows that Australian children and adolescents receive millions of exposures to alcohol advertising when watching AFL, NRL, and Cricket on television. It found that a cumulative audience of 26.9 million Australian children and adolescents watching these sports are exposed to 51 million instances of alcohol advertising, with nearly half (47%) of these broadcast during daytime programming between 6am and 8.30pm.

This latest research once again demonstrates that existing alcohol advertising regulations are not protecting Australian children from exposure to unhealthy advertising during prominent televised sports.

As NRL and AFL footy finals move towards their denouement, the egregious loophole that allows alcohol advertising to be broadcast during live sporting broadcasts in the daytime, on weekends and public holidays continues to expose millions of Australian children and adolescents to high levels of alcohol advertising.

Premier Baird’s comments, timely as they are, come as FreeTV Australia seeks approval to relax restrictions that will allow for even more alcohol advertising on TV, a move that would be a backward and an enormously damaging step.

The current self-regulatory alcohol advertising codes have not only failed to protect children and adolescents from exposure to alcohol messages. They have failed miserably to keep up with the rapidly shifting traditional and digital landscape and protect consumers of all ages from inappropriate advertising.

Ideally, alcohol advertising should be banned from broadcast and online media, alcohol sponsorship of sport and cultural events should cease (using a replacement advertising scheme funded by a levy on alcohol sales), and health and safety counter-advertising should accompany print and outdoor advertising.

In the meantime, the Commonwealth Government needs to establish an independent review of Australia’s broadcast and digital alcohol advertising guidelines. Such a government-instigated review could cut through the complexity, identify and resolve current failings and recommend the introduction of an effective alcohol advertising regulatory regime.

Perhaps this is something Premier Baird could take up new Prime Minister Turnbull, whom I know has also expressed concern about the pervasiveness of alcohol advertising.

The review could deal with the inconsistent approaches to alcohol advertising without having to lower the bar further on an already broken system. We must tighten the alcohol advertising guidelines and lift the advertising standards across all media including commercial television, Pay TV and online platforms.

Meanwhile, Mike Baird continues to lead the way when it comes to speaking up about issues that damage and destroy too many lives.

Michael Thorn is CEO of Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education.


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