Associate Feature: Is Scotland's attitude towards alcohol changing for the better?
Did you know alcohol consumption in Scotland peaked in 2007; has been declining ever since and is now at its lowest level for 27 years? Today, 4 in 5 adults drink within the Chief Medical Officers’ low risk guidelines or do not drink at all. Over the past two decades, we have seen dramatic falls in binge drinking, drink driving, alcohol related crimes and underage alcohol consumption. Alcohol-related hospital admissions have also been declining since 2007.
Tragically, Scotland along with many other countries saw an increase in alcohol related deaths during the pandemic. Despite reducing per capita consumption, the COVID crisis saw some people who already drank at harmful levels drinking more during lockdown period, whilst most drinkers drank at the same or less over the same period.
Much progress has been made in changing people’s attitude towards alcohol in Scotland, but the pandemic has reinforced the need for more to be done to support those who are drinking at harmful levels.
The alcohol industry plays its role in promoting and reinforcing positive attitudes to responsible consumption. For example, we fund the independent alcohol education charity Drinkaware which runs successful, targeted campaigns to encourage moderation and highlight the dangers of excessive consumption. We also support Community Alcohol Partnerships (CAP) across Scotland which focus on tackling underage drinking. Strict compliance with ‘no proof, no sale’, Challenge 25 and initiatives such as our proxy purchase campaign ‘It’ll Cost You’ have reduced the accessibility of alcohol to children and young people. Producers also provide key information on our labels, including the number of units, the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines, a pregnancy warning and promotion of Drinkaware.
The alcoholic drinks industry supports so many sectors and jobs in Scotland, from farming communities and creative agencies to cultural events and hospitality venues right around the country. Distilling is our most important export industry, and coupled with brewing, is integral to our hospitality and tourism sectors. Sustaining 88,700 jobs across the country, many in rural or economically disadvantaged areas.
Embedding those improvements to Scotland’s relationship with alcohol, whilst at the same time having a successful, vibrant alcohol sector is possible. This requires dialogue and engagement between the industry, government, and all of society, to achieve tangible actions that reinforce positive behaviours, moderation and responsible socialising.
The Scottish Government’s Alcohol Framework is heavily focused on the whole population with the aim of reducing consumption. But as the pandemic has shown, it is essential more focus is given to interventions and support specifically aimed at harmful drinkers.
This autumn, the Scottish Government will hold a consultation on proposals to restrict alcohol advertising and promotion. Alcohol advertising is already heavily regulated, with an effective rule-based system operated by Ofcom, the Advertising Standards Authority, and the Portman Group. Working together they regulate alcohol advertising across all media from TV and outdoor to websites and social media, plus sponsorship. Alcohol can only be promoted in a socially responsible manner and only to those aged over 18. No producer can imply, condone, or encourage immoderate, irresponsible, or anti-social drinking, and there are no alcohol ads on billboards near schools.
New research from the think tank, Credos, found alcohol advertising spend has outpaced total alcohol sales since 2011, clearly demonstrating the amount of alcohol advertising has no direct relationship to the amount of alcohol purchased. Instead, advertising is being used to differentiate products in a crowded market. Secondly, alcohol advertising spend appears to have an inverse relationship with alcohol harm, including hospitalisations and underage drinking.
While advertising spend has increased over the past 20 years, harms have decreased in contrast. Further restrictions on advertising are therefore unlikely to deliver expected public health gains.
We have always been a partner in reducing alcohol harms. As the Scottish Government looks at today’s alcohol challenges, we will engage constructively and continue to work to embed Scotland’s improved relationship with alcohol.
This article was sponsored by the Scottish Alcohol Industry Partnership.