The Association of Advertisers in Ireland (AAI) has criticised the proposed introduction of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill which was introduced by the Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar this week.
The Bill paves the way for the introduction of a 9pm watershed for alcohol ads, the banning of ads near schools, playgrounds and public transport and the requirement for ads to be strictly “informative.” The Bill will also see the introduction of a 10 cent per gram of alcohol minimum price for alcohol, meaning that the cheapest bottle of wine in an off-licence will be €7.60, while also banning cheap drink promotions and the “policing” of “happy hours” will be policed. Health warnings and calorie labelling will become mandatory, along with better public information in pubs and off-licences.
According to Barry Dooley, CEO of AAI, “further restrictions to advertising for alcohol brands in Ireland will simply not assist in tackling alcohol misuse.”
He says that when the AAI participated in an open discussion in the Dail, “we stressed that we needed policies and codes which strengthen the advertising sector – for brands, for media, for agencies and services. We believe that the freedom to advertise, within a clear and responsible framework, is good for people, good for business and good for the economy.”
He says that the AAI is very concerned about the terms of the restrictions including that requirements that “ads to be strictly informative about the product concerned and subject to criminal sanction” in addition to the 9pm watershed and the banning of ads on public transport.
“We believe that these restrictions are counter-productive and have said from the outset that a wider stakeholder response to alcohol misuse in this country is what is required – rather than a random selection of measures. That said, we support measures that are fairly assessed, can be effectively monitored and will have a positive impact – not measures like these – for the sake of measures,” he says.
“We pleaded with the joint committee in the Dail when considering new measures or restrictions and asked them to think of the question, ‘what is this likely to achieve?’ and ‘will it make a difference’? We believe that everyone should play their part. The industry must act properly. Governments must legislate fairly and consumers must behave responsibly,” he says.
He points out that advertising supports over 30,000 jobs in Ireland and is an important driver of business activity.
“We are already subject to some of the most stringent alcohol advertising legislation in Europe. Through CopyClear, we are the only country in Europe that operates, a pre-vetting service dedicated to alcohol advertising. This was established 12 years ago, is funded by the alcohol companies and independently managed by the AAI and Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland.”
The new proposal for “ads to be strictly informative about the product concerned” will also put an end to entertaining, innovative advertising, says Dooley. “Brands will no longer be able to move with the times in order to stay in touch with their consumers in a relevant manner. These restrictions will put a stop to brands re-inventing themselves – they will no longer be able to remain fresh and up to-date, contemporary and relevant to their consumers. They will be starting on the slow walk to irrelevance,” he adds.
“With regard to the ban on advertising near schools and playgrounds, the industry has been doing this for a long time through adherence to the AMCMB code, and this was also highlighted by the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland to the joint committee in the Dail back in April of this year.”
He also points out that the 9.00pm broadcasting watershed will result in a loss to Irish broadcasters and ignores the reality that many children watch TV after 9.00pm. “At the moment there are five Irish TV stations that are likely to be impacted, so once again we would query the effectiveness of this measure particularly among the younger audiences.”
In conclusion, he says, “advertising doesn’t play a significant role in driving the harmful use of alcohol, particularly the early onset of drinking as evidenced by research on alcohol misuse. The media environment is now global so national restrictions will not be properly effective – instead Government should work to expand and help us to carry on what we are doing and enforce advertising standards,” he concludes.