WHO highlights glaring gaps in regulation of cross-border alcohol marketing

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A new report from the World Health Organization highlights the growing use of sophisticated online alcohol marketing techniques and the need for more effective regulation. This shows that youth and heavy drinkers are increasingly being targeted by alcohol advertisements, often to the detriment of their health.

This new WHO report entitled, Reducing harm from alcohol – by regulating cross-border alcohol marketing, advertising and promotion He was the first to detail the scope of today’s alcohol marketing beyond national borders – often through digital means – and in many cases independent of the social, economic or cultural environment of the recipient countries.

Worldwide, three million people die each year from the harmful use of alcohol every 10 seconds, representing about 5% of all deaths. A disproportionate share of these alcohol-related deaths occur among young people, and 13.5% of all deaths between the ages of 20 and 39 are alcohol-related.

“Alcohol is stealing these young people, their families, and their communities from their lives and their potential,” he said.r Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization. “Still, despite the obvious health risks, controls over the marketing of alcohol are much weaker than for other psychoactive products. More effective, enforced and consistent regulation of alcohol marketing will both save the lives of young people and improve their lives worldwide. »

The digital revolution in marketing and promotion

One of the biggest changes in alcohol marketing in recent years is the use of sophisticated online marketing. The collection and analysis of data on user habits and preferences by global Internet service providers has created new and growing opportunities for alcohol marketers to design targeting specific groups across national borders. Targeted advertising in social media is especially effective in the use of this data, its effect is reinforced by influencers in social networks and messages are shared among these media users.

In 2019, more than 70% of media spend by major US-based alcohol marketers was on promotions, product placement and advertising, online social media advertising, according to a data source cited in the report.

“The growing importance of digital media means that alcohol marketing is increasingly cross-border,” says Dağ Rekve of the World Health Organization’s Alcohol, Drugs and Addictive Behaviors Unit. “Therefore, it is more difficult for countries that regulate the marketing of alcohol to effectively control it in their jurisdiction. More cooperation between countries in this area is essential.”

Sponsorship of sporting events

Sponsorship of major sporting events at the national, regional and global levels is another key strategy used by transnational alcohol companies (they are increasingly gaining their dominance over the production and use of image-branded spirits). This type of sponsorship can significantly increase their brand’s awareness to new audiences. In addition, alcohol producers partner with sports leagues and clubs to reach audiences and potential consumers around the world.

The growing market for online sports, including sports competitions, is another opportunity to sponsor events and increase brand awareness and international sales. The same goes for product placement in movies and TV shows, most of which air on international pay channels. Almost half have branded liquors, according to an analysis of the 100 highest-grossing US movies between 1996 and 2015.

Focus on marketing to specific audiences

The absence of regulations to combat the cross-border marketing of alcohol is particularly worrying for children and adolescents, women and heavy drinkers.

Research has shown that starting to drink alcohol at a young age is an indicator of hazardous drinking in early adulthood and beyond. In addition, adolescent drinkers are more vulnerable to the harms of alcohol consumption than older drinkers. Particularly targeted are regions of the world with young and growing populations, such as Africa and Latin America.

In addition, alcohol consumption among women is an important growth area for the production and sale of alcohol. While three-quarters of the world’s alcohol consumption is male, alcohol marketers tend to see the lower proportion of female alcohol users as an opportunity to grow their market and often portray women’s alcohol consumption as a symbol of emancipation and equality. Under the guise of corporate social responsibility, they organize initiatives on issues such as breast cancer and domestic violence to promote their alcohol brands, and establish relationships with women who are known for their achievements in fields such as sports or the arts.

Heavy drinkers and dependent drinkers are another target of marketing efforts, given that in many countries only 20% of current drinkers consume more than half of all alcohol consumed. People addicted to alcohol often report a stronger urge to drink when faced with descriptive signs of alcohol, but they rarely have an effective means of avoiding exposure to alcohol content, advertising or promotion.

Current regulations are mostly limited to individual states

While there are some restrictions on the marketing of alcohol in many countries, these generally tend to be relatively limited. A 2018 WHO survey found that while most countries have some form of regulation for marketing alcohol in traditional media, nearly half (48%) have no regulation for marketing alcohol online. and social media (47%).

At the same time, the commitment and continued work of national governments, the public health community, and WHO to limit the availability and promotion of tobacco products, paying particular attention to the cross-border aspects of tobacco production and marketing, has reduced tobacco consumption and exposure worldwide, thereby saving lives.

The need for international cooperation

The report concludes that national governments should incorporate restrictions or outright bans on the marketing of alcohol, including its cross-border aspects, into their public health strategies. It highlights the key elements and options for regulating the cross-border marketing of alcohol and underlines the need for strong government cooperation in this area.

Note to the editors:

There is a causal link between alcohol consumption and a wide variety of health problems, including mental and behavioral disorders, including alcohol dependence; major non-communicable diseases such as cirrhosis, certain cancers and cardiovascular diseases; injuries and deaths from violence and traffic accidents.