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WHO calls for governments to restrict online marketing of alcohol

The World Health Organization's latest report on reducing the harm from alcohol has found alcohol is being marketed across national borders – often by digital means – and in many cases regardless of the social, economic or cultural environment in receiving countries. Stock photo.
The World Health Organization's latest report on reducing the harm from alcohol has found alcohol is being marketed across national borders – often by digital means – and in many cases regardless of the social, economic or cultural environment in receiving countries. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/jeka81

The World Health Organization is calling for governments to integrate comprehensive restrictions or bans on alcohol marketing, as digital marketing, across borders, targets the young and heavy drinkers with “sophisticated” online marketing.

The organisation's latest report, “Reducing the harm from alcohol — by regulating cross-border alcohol marketing, advertising and promotion”, has found alcohol is being marketed across national borders — often by digital means — and in many cases regardless of the social, economic or cultural environment in receiving countries.

Targeted advertising on social media is especially effective at using data on users' habits and preferences

“One of the biggest changes in recent years to alcohol marketing is the use of sophisticated online marketing. The collection and analysis of data on users’ habits and preferences by global internet providers has created new and growing opportunities for alcohol marketers to target messages to specific groups across national borders.

“Targeted advertising on social media is especially effective at using such data, with its impact strengthened by social influencers and sharing of posts between social media users,” the report says.

Dag Rekve of the WHO’s alcohol, drugs and addictive behaviours unit, said the rising importance of digital media means that alcohol marketing has become increasingly cross-border.

“This makes it more difficult for countries that are regulating alcohol marketing to effectively control it in their jurisdictions. More collaboration between countries in this area is needed,” said Rekve.

In SA marketing of alcohol may not be directed to people under the age of 18.

“While many countries have some form of restrictions on alcohol marketing in place, generally they tend to be relatively weak. In a WHO 2018 study, it was found that, while most countries have some form of regulation for alcohol marketing in traditional media, almost half have no regulation in place for internet (48%) and social media (47%) marketing of alcohol,” WHO researchers said.

The lack of regulation to address cross-border marketing of alcohol is of particular concern for children and adolescents, women, and heavy drinkers.

“Studies have shown that starting to drink alcohol at a young age is a predictor of hazardous drinking in young adulthood and beyond. Furthermore, teenage drinkers are more vulnerable to harm from alcohol consumption than older drinkers. Areas of the world with young and growing populations, such as Africa and Latin America, are being particularly targeted,” the report said.

In addition, alcohol consumption among women is an important growth sector for alcohol production and sales.

“While three quarters of the alcohol that the world drinks is consumed by males, alcohol marketers tend to see the lower rate of women drinking as an opportunity to grow their market, often depicting drinking by women as a symbol of empowerment and equality. They organise corporate social responsibility initiatives, on topics such as breast cancer and domestic violence, and engage with women known for their success in areas such as sports or the arts to promote brands of alcohol,” said the WHO.  

Controls on the marketing of alcohol are much weaker than for other psychoactive products

Heavy and dependent drinkers are another target for marketing efforts, since in many countries just 20% of current drinkers drink well over half of all alcohol consumed.

“Alcohol-dependent people frequently report a stronger urge to drink alcohol when confronted with alcohol-related cues, yet they rarely have an effective way to avoid exposure to the content of the advertising or promotion,” said the report.

Three million people worldwide die each year as a result of harmful use of alcohol — one every 10 seconds — representing about 5% of all deaths.

“A disproportionate number of these alcohol-related deaths occur among younger people, with 13.5% of all deaths among those who are 20—39 years of age being alcohol-related,” said the report.

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said alcohol robs young people, their families and societies of their lives and potential.

“Yet despite the clear risks to health, controls on the marketing of alcohol are much weaker than for other psychoactive products. Better, well enforced and more consistent regulation of alcohol marketing would both save and improve young lives across the world.”

TimesLIVE

 


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