Doctors urge total ban on alcohol adverts

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There should be a total ban on alcohol advertising, including happy hours and sponsorship of music and sporting events, doctors' leaders said today.

Video: Call for ban on alcohol marketing

A tough package of measures is needed to "tackle the soaring cost of alcohol-related harm" in the UK, said a report from the British Medical Association (BMA).

Young people are particularly affected by such advertising, which encourages them to binge-drink and stock up on cheap alcopops, it said.

The BMA also renewed its calls for a minimum price to be set per unit of alcohol, for alcohol to be taxed at a higher rate than inflation and for a ban on two-for-one offers.

It follows a report last year from the union which said there should be a curb on the sale of cut-price alcohol, such as in supermarkets.

The latest study - Under The Influence - said alcohol consumption in the UK has "increased rapidly" in recent years among all age groups.

It blames advertising and heavy discounting, the availability of cheap alcohol and 24-hour licensing laws.

The report said: "The population is drinking in increasingly harmful ways and the result is a plethora of avoidable medical, psychological and social harm, damaged lives and early deaths.

"As consumption has increased, so the market for alcohol has grown.

"In 2007, sales (including supermarket, off-licence, restaurant and bar sales) were high enough to put virtually every British adult over Government guideline drinking levels.

"These sales are driven by vast promotional and marketing campaigns that dwarf health promotion efforts: the UK alcohol industry spends approximately £800 million each year encouraging consumption of its wares."

The report said current controls on promoting alcohol are "completely inadequate" because they are based on voluntary agreements with the industry and focus on their content, rather than the amount of alcohol advertising.

"Even in their control of content the rules are weak with, for example, prohibitions on advertising which associates drink with youth culture or sporting success sitting alongside alcohol sponsorship of iconic youth events like music festivals and premiership football."

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the BMA, said the body was not "anti-alcohol" but doctors were right to focus on the health of their patients.

She added: "Over the centuries, alcohol has become established as the country's favourite drug.

"The reality is that young people are drinking more because the whole population is drinking more and our society is awash with pro-alcohol messaging and marketing.

"In treating this we need to look beyond young people and at society as a whole."

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), alcohol is the leading risk factor for premature death and disability in developed countries after smoking and high blood pressure.

It is related to more than 60 medical conditions, costs the NHS millions of pounds every year and is linked to crime and domestic abuse, the report said.

Professor Gerard Hastings, who was an author on the study, said: "Given the alcohol industry spends £800 million a year in promoting alcohol in the UK, it is no surprise that we see it everywhere - on TV, in magazines, on billboards, as part of music festival or football sponsorship deals, on internet pop-ups and on social networking sites.

"Given adolescents often dislike the taste of alcohol, new products like alcopops and toffee vodka are developed and promoted as they have greater appeal to young people.

"All these promotional activities serve to normalise alcohol as an essential part of everyday life.

"It is no surprise that young people are drawn to alcohol."

Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: "There's no longer any doubt - the heavy marketing and promotion of alcohol, combined with low prices - are encouraging young people to drink at a level our health services are struggling to cope with."