Children in Britain are more exposed to alcohol promotion than adults and need much stronger protection, according to BMJ.com.
Professor Gerard Hastings at the University of Stirling and Dr Nick Sheron at the University of Southampton argue that urgent changes to Britain's 'flawed' regulatory system are needed to provide much stronger protection for children.
An analysis conducted by the Rand Corporation for the European Commission shows 10-15 year olds in the UK see 10 per cent more alcohol advertising on TV than their parents do. Even more shocking, when it comes to the specific sector of alcopops, they see 50 per cent more. RAND's analysis was unable to draw any sensible conclusions about relative exposure via digital and social media. The corporation did note, however, that young people are the heaviest users, and alcohol marketers are exploiting the resulting opportunities with enormous energy.
That this commercial activity is harming children is beyond dispute, say Hastings and Sheron. Indeed, findings from 13 peer reviewed studies on the impact of alcohol marketing on young people were absolutely clear cut: 'alcohol marketing increases the likelihood that adolescents will start to use alcohol, and to drink more if they are already using alcohol.'
They point to the voluntary commitment made by the drinks industry - restated most recently in October 2012, a month after the new analysis was published - to restrict its advertising to media that 'have a minimum 70 per cent adult audience.'
The so called 70:30 split is based on the share of the US population above the legal drinking age of 21, but has been applied generally around the globe, with a ratio of 75:25 in the UK. However, the authors explain that in the UK only 21 per cent of the population is under 18, and of these 5 per cent are infants, so the voluntary guidelines allocate these children an audience share of 25% even though they comprise only 16 per cent of the population.
The Rand analysis also suggests the disproportionately high exposure of children to alcopops advertising cannot be explained simply by the regulatory system; deliberate targeting must also be at play and are tearing up the communications rule book resulting in marketing that is simultaneously more powerful and less controllable, according to the authors.
'Our children urgently need protection from alcohol marketing,' Prof Hasting and Dr Sheron said. 'Voluntary codes and partial measures have all too obviously failed, and digital media is set to multiply the resulting harm.'
Central to this week's strategy recommendations is a complete ban on alcohol advertising and sponsorship, they added.
The news comes as prime minister David Cameron has insisted on pressing ahead with proposals to outlaw selling alcohol at less than 45p a unit in England and Wales.
But reports in national press say the idea appears 'dead in the water', thanks to opposition from ministers. Economists predict the plans could push the average family drinks bill up by almost £100 a year.