UNIVERSITY of WA research has exposed the alarmingly high levels of alcohol television advertising screened during potential child viewing times, at odds with efforts to reduce alcohol-related harm in Australia.
In a two month study, researchers from UWA, the University of Adelaide and the Cancer Council found that of the 2810 alcohol advertisements shown in five capital cities, about half were screened when at least 50 per cent of possible child viewers were likely to be watching.
According to the lead researcher, UWA Health Promotion director Professor Simone Pettigrew, the study posed serious questions for public policy makers and health practitioners seeking to change attitudes towards alcohol as a normal and safe aspect of life.
She says the study demonstrates that current advertising practices were likely to be influencing children, despite the Alcohol and Beverages Advertising Code stating that ‘advertisements must not encourage excessive consumption or abuse of alcohol’.
The findings show that television advertisements were likely to encourage young people to view alcohol as an inexpensive product closely associated with fun, friendship and physical activity, and best bought in bulk.
“Our study shows the emphasis in many of the analysed advertisements on value-for-money and buying in bulk may contravene the spirit—if not the letter—of the code,” she says.
Professor Pettigrew says despite the Australian Government Children’s Television Standards banning alcohol advertising during dedicated children’s program times, half of alcohol-related advertisements were shown during programmes commonly viewed by both adults and children.
Injury Control Council of WA Community Safety Programs manager Sarai Stevely also believes television advertising promotes alcohol consumption and “normalises a drinking culture”.
She says alcohol advertising predominantly associates alcohol consumption with “enjoying ourselves” rather than showing the damaging impacts of long-term drinking.
“There is evidence linking exposure from alcohol promotion including television advertising, with reducing the age that young people will try a drink, increasing the likelihood that they will drink and increasing the amount they consume once they have started drinking,” Ms Stevely says.
Ms Stevely says St John Ambulance figures reveal that an average of six young people a week are treated for alcohol intoxication due to “a whole range of contributing factors such as cheap alcohol availability and inappropriate alcohol advertising”.
She says in order to curb alcohol consumption and prevent individuals from starting at an early age, it was vital children and young adults were limited to alcohol advertising and promotions.
“We [also need to] implement mandatory alcohol education in schools, provide education to parents and the broader community, introduce evidence-based alcohol taxation reforms and find serious alternatives to alcohol sponsorship particularly in sport,” she says.