Alcohol advertising review board content and placement code
Alcohol is no ordinary commodity. It is associated with harm to health, violence, crime, social disruption and economic cost. Per capita alcohol consumption in Australia has been rising over the past two decades and alcohol-related harm has reached critical levels, with especial concerns about drinking patterns among young people.1,2 Alcohol companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars promoting their products, and their advertising is highly effective. Alcohol and advertising industry involvement in the regulation of their advertising is seen as both biased and ineffective.3 Current definitions of advertising used in Australia exclude major forms of advertising, including sports sponsorship. Recognising the compelling need for responsible regulation of alcohol advertising and promotion in Australia, the Alcohol Advertising Review Board reviews complaints from the community about alcohol advertising.
Alcohol and harm:
There is an urgent need for action to challenge Australia’s harmful drinking culture. The social costs of alcohol-related harm to Australians are high. One in five Australians aged 14 years and above drinks at short-term risky/high-risk levels at least once a month.4 This equates to more than 42 million occasions of binge drinking in Australia each year. The cost to the Australian community from alcohol-related harm is estimated to be more than $36 billion a year.5 An estimated 40% of all people detained by police attribute their offence to alcohol consumption.6 Alcohol is associated with violence, injury, crime and car crashes.
Alcohol also causes considerable harm to health. Heavy drinking at a young age can adversely affect brain development and is linked to alcohol-related problems in later life.7 On average, one in four hospitalisations of young people aged 15-24 years occurs because of alcohol.4 Alcohol ingested by the mother is associated with harm to unborn babies and breastfeeding infants.4 Excessive alcohol consumption is a major risk factor for a variety of health problems such as stroke, coronary heart disease and high blood pressure.8 Alcohol is a risk factor for cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, bowel and breast, with 5% of all cancers in Australia linked to long-term alcohol consumption.9
Alcohol advertising and drinking behaviours:
The content and frequency of alcohol advertising can have an impact on an individual’s behaviours and attitudes towards alcohol. Alcohol advertising impacts on drinking behaviours, both immediately in regard to brand preference as well as in the long term through reinforcing pro-drinking messages. In particular, there is growing evidence to support the effect alcohol advertising has on young people.10 Alcohol marketing contributes to young people’s attitudes to drinking, drinking initiation and drinking at harmful levels.11 It effectively reinforces the harmful drinking culture that exists in Australia. Research evidence consistently shows strong associations between exposure to alcohol advertising and young people’s early initiation to alcohol use and/or increased alcohol consumption.12
Self-regulation of alcohol advertising in Australia:
In Australia, the content of alcohol advertising is self-regulated by the alcohol and advertising industries. The Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC) is the alcohol-specific advertising code of practice. ABAC is a voluntary code, and the ABAC Scheme is governed by alcohol industry representatives.
The alcohol-specific advertising code of practice deals with the content of ads only. The ABAC system is voluntary, and not all members of the industry – including powerful players such as retailers – are covered. The ABAC does not envisage the regulation of alcohol advertising content in emerging media. Making a complaint is a protracted process, and often a determination is not effective against advertising campaigns that have limited timeframes. Ultimately, the ABAC Adjudication Panel appears to support industry interests: the determinations consistently show that the Code’s tests and provisions are interpreted in favour of advertisers.13, 14
The regulation of the placement of alcohol advertising is inconsistent or non-existent. Indeed, some forms of placement, such as the placement of alcohol advertisements on the internet or the showing alcohol advertisements in cinemas, fall through the gaps entirely.
We believe that the current alcohol advertising self-regulation system has consistently failed to ensure that alcohol advertising is socially responsible and, in particular, it fails to protect young people from exposure to alcohol marketing.
The Alcohol Advertising Review Board Code
The Alcohol Advertising Review Board’s Code (the Code) sets criteria for acceptable alcohol advertising content in Australia. The Alcohol Advertising Review Board Content Code is constructed using only provisions from existing alcohol advertising codes around the world. Some provisions are drawn from the ABAC, and others are from codes from jurisdictions with self-regulatory or quasi-regulatory systems similar to Australia’s, particularly New Zealand, the UK, and Canada. Each of those codes purports to ensure that alcohol advertising is socially responsible, that it neither conflicts with nor detracts from the need for responsibility and moderation in liquor merchandising and consumption, and that it does not encourage young people to drink. In each case, the alcohol and advertising industries have accepted and supported the application of the codes to their advertising.
The Alcohol Advertising Review Board considers that placement of alcohol advertising should be governed by the Alcohol Advertising Review Board Placement Code.
The Code covers all forms of advertising in Australia including, but not limited to, television, press, radio, online, digital and billboards, and advertising through promotional activities such as sports sponsorship.
The Alcohol Advertising Review Board will interpret the Code and judge community complaints about alcohol advertising. Applying the rules of the existing self-regulatory systems, the Alcohol Advertising Review Board will endeavour to reach a commonsense outcome. The Panel will especially focus on children’s and young people’s exposure to alcohol marketing and promotions.
In making its determinations, the Alcohol Advertising Review Board will consider the nature of the product being advertised, the media used, and the exposure of the audience targeted by the advertisement. The Board’s determinations will be communicated to the advertiser, and made easily accessible for the general public and the media. The Alcohol Advertising Review Board represents an innovative approach that will deliver rational, considered and consistent alcohol advertising review, free of industry influence.
2. Chikritzhs T, Catalano P, Stockwell T, Donath S, Ngo H, Young D et al. Australian alcohol indicators, 1990-2001: Patterns of alcohol use and related harms for Australian states and territories. Perth, National Drug Research Institute and Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre Inc. 2003.
5.Lastlett A, Catalano P, Chikritzhs T, Dale C, Doran C, Ferris J, et al. The Range and Magnitude of Alcohol's Harm to Others. AER Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, Eastern Health, Fitzroy, Victoria; 2010.
6.Australia New Zealand Policing Advisory Agency (ANZPAA). Operation Unit. Alcohol Misuse Statistics. ANZPAA: Melbourne. 2010. Located at https://www.anzpaa.org.au/current-initiatives/operation-unite/alcohol-misuse-statistics