Øystein Geir Bjørn og Lilly Sofie - 600p
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Regulation of alcohol advertising on the agenda of the World Medical Association

When the Council of the World Medical Association met in Oslo, a special thematic session on the ban of alcohol advertising was part of the agenda. Such a ban is a controversial topic globally but well accepted in Norway. That was the mixed message from the two invited expert speakers.

Around 150 delegates from 64 countries from all over the world attended the 200th Council meeting of the World Medical Association in Oslo, Norway least week. Amidst many organisational and financial matters on the agenda WMA also had set aside time for a thematic session on alcohol advertising. 

Two expert speakers presented the issue of regulations on alcohol advertising from an international and from a Norwegian point of view. Norway has had a complete ban on all alcohol advertising since 1975, i.e. 40 years this year. This makes Norway a unique case well worth studying.

Deputy Director General Lilly Sofie Ottesen from the Ministry of Health and Care Services gave an overview of the history and the scope of the advertising ban in Norway. ­She concluded that a comprehensive advertising ban as an integral part of Norway’s comprehensive alcohol policy. – The ban contributes to the effect of and the legitimacy of the message of the overall alcohol policy, thus making the whole system that after all relies on public support more sustainable.

Not under pressure

The Deputy Director concluded that the Norwegian advertising ban as such is not under pressure, but there are grey zones to be handled and there are details which are under pressure. – We do not see any threats to the ban as such, but as there will always be changes in society, communications and industry. We must make sure that the ban and its exceptions adapt to these changes. This, along with an efficient control and sanction system, is important to safeguard the support for the ban also in the years to come.  

Senior Advisor Øystein Bakke from FORUT gave an overview of the international discussions around alcohol advertising. He referred to the WHO Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol, which invites national governments to use regulations on alcohol advertising as a tool to promote public health. Bakke described an international situation which is very different from the Norwegian scene. – Internationally, restrictions on alcohol marketing are maybe one of the most controversial of all public health oriented alcohol control measures.

WMA statement from 2005

Last time alcohol policy was on the agenda of the World Medical Association was in 2005 when the WMA General Assembly in Santiago adopted a comprehensive statement on reducing the global impact of alcohol on health and society. Among other things the 2005 statement said the following about alcohol advertising: “Alcohol advertising and promotion is rapidly expanding throughout the world and is increasingly sophisticated and carefully targeted, including to youth. It is aimed to attract, influence, and recruit new generations of potential drinkers despite industry codes of self-regulation that are widely ignored and often not enforced”.

The picture shows the two expert speakers, Bakke to the far left and Ottesen to the right, together with their hosts from the Norwegian Medical Association in the middle, Secretary General Geir Riise (to the left) and special advisor Bjørn Oscar Hofvtvedt.

Øystein Geir Bjørn og Lilly Sofie - 600p.jpg

Restrictions on alcohol advertising already exist

In his presentation Øystein Bakke referred to data from WHO that show that various forms of marketing restrictions exist in many countries around the world. - There are different types of regulations, including bans in certain media, watersheds to prevent young spectators from seeing alcohol advertising on TV etc. Almost 50 countries had a total ban on alcohol advertising in national television in 2012, while another 50 had some sort of partial restriction on TV-advertising.

Said the FORUT representative: “The WHO global alcohol strategy points out that alcohol is marketed through increasingly sophisticated advertising and promotion techniques and that marketing towards young adults easily exposes adolescents under the legal drinking age to the same marketing. The exposure of children and young people to appealing marketing is of particular concern, as is the targeting of new markets in developing and low- and middle-income countries with a current low prevalence of alcohol consumption or high abstinence rates».

South Africa - an important battlefield

The most interesting political process right now is the discussion in South Africa on the total ban on alcohol advertising proposed by the ANC government, not the least because it shows how far the alcohol industry is willing to go in fighting any legal restrictions on the their promotional activities.

- Increasing amounts of evidence show that alcohol advertising and other marketing efforts have an impact on consumption. Marketing is a dominant feature of the global alcohol trade, and the companies spend massively towards “investments in the brands”. Advertising and marketing have the strongest impacts on young people, speeding up onset of drinking and increasing the amounts consumed by those who already drink.

In emerging markets, that is the new markets for the global alcohol industry in Africa and Asia, marketing is effective in recruiting new consumers from the non-drinking population. These markets are seen as potential growth markets as the traditional markets of the West are becoming less profitable, said Øystein Bakke from FORUT.