House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
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W B Gurney & Sons LLP, Hope House,
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Taken before the Health Committee
on Thursday 2 July 2009
Mr Kevin Barron, in the Chair
Mr Peter Bone
Dr Doug Naysmith
Mr Lee Scott
Dr Howard Stoate
Dr Richard Taylor
Witnesses: Mr Guy Parker, Chief Executive, Advertising Standards Authority, and Ms Kate Stross, Director of Content and Standards, Ofcom, gave evidence.
Q459 Chairman: I welcome you to the fourth evidence session in our inquiry into alcohol. For the record perhaps you would give us your names and the positions you currently hold.
Ms Stross: I am Kate Stross, director of content at Ofcom.
Mr Parker: I am Guy Parker, chief executive of the Advertising Standards Authority.
Q460 Chairman: I put a general question to both of you. Please explain your responsibilities in relation to regulating the advertising of alcohol and the relationship between your two different organisations?
Ms Stross: We regulate the whole of the communications sector but as part of our regulation of broadcasting we are responsible for regulating the content of both programmes and advertising. In 2004 we devolved our regulatory powers to a large extent to the Advertising Standards Authority in relation to advertising, but Ofcom retains backstop powers behind the ASA. We have the right to approve the codes relating to broadcast advertising, impose sanctions should that be necessary and retain an overall responsibility for regulating the amount of advertising that can be seen on television.
Mr Parker: The ASA is responsible for administering the rules that cover all advertising, broadcast and non-broadcast. My colleague has just explained the broad co-regulatory set up. The non-broadcast side is more of a self-regulatory set up. We have been responsible for administering its code since 1962, so it is getting on for 50 years. The rules are written by the industry in the form of the Committee of Advertising Practice on the non-broadcast side and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice on the broadcast side. As to the latter the code is subject to Ofcom approval. Last year we were responsible for assessing and checking against the code 26,500 complaints involving about 15,500 cases. By "case" I mean a discrete ad or campaign. As to alcohol, we received just short of 400 complaints about advertising last year. Those complaints were not just about alleged problems under the specific and strict alcohol rules; most were complaints that ads were misleading or offensive under the general rules in the codes. Of those 400 complaints 200 related to alcohol ads or campaigns. Those 200 cases represent about 1% of the total and equate almost perfectly with the proportion spent on alcohol ads.
Gidley: We have been told by two eminent
experts on alcohol, Professor Gilmore and Dr Peter Anderson, that the current
Mr Parker: I do not agree with that. Our content, scheduling and placements
rules are strict. They were further strengthened in 2005, in part as a result
of the government's alcohol harm reduction strategy. We do a lot more besides
just assessing and if necessary investigating and upholding complaints. TV and
radio advertising, not just alcohol, is pre-cleared by two organisations:
Clearcast and the radio advertising clearance centre. On the non-broadcast side
we operate a copy advice service that gives a lot of advice to advertisers etc
who want to check whether their ads and campaigns are okay under the rules.
Last year we received over 200 written inquiries from alcohol advertisers and
agencies wanting to make sure that their ads and campaigns complied with the
rules, but we also put a lot of emphasis on the more proactive side of things,
for example regular monitoring of all ads particularly those relating to
alcohol. In 2006, 2007 and 2008 we undertook fairly extensive alcohol compliance
surveys where we looked at a representative sample of alcohol ads and assessed
them against the rules to check compliance. Compliance rates have varied a
little. In 2006 the rate was 95%. That is the lower end of what we regard as
acceptable. We put quite a lot of effort and resource in talking to the
industry to explain where we think it is going wrong and how they can ensure
that its ads and campaigns comply with the codes. The compliance rate picked up
a bit in 2007; it was 97%. We are about to publicise the survey we carried out
December last year just before Christmas when historically there is a lot of alcohol advertising and it looks as though the compliance rate has improved a little; it is 99%. We believe that we have things well under control.
Q462 Sandra Gidley: Are there any manufacturers who have not contacted you? Is there any correlation between those who have and have not and compliance with the code? Some ads seem to push it a bit. I am thinking in particular of WKD ads which, certainly in a report I have seen, were slated by the ASA as pushing the boundaries too far. Did they check those before?
Mr Parker: I do not know whether they have been seeking copy advice in the past year or two; they may well have done. I am aware that we have found against 20 ads or campaigns in the past three or four years since the stricter rules were introduced in 2005. The written evidence we submitted referred to 18 but there have been two further ones since. That is for a variety of different offences under the rules. Youth appeal and links to social and sexual success have featured on a number of occasions. If it helps the Committee, I have a summary of all those 20 adjudications and copies of the ads where there are printouts. I can leave that with you. It is not the case that there is perfect compliance, but in my view the ASA administers these rules very strictly. It is quite notable that the decision taken in the past year or so that has garnered the most media interest was an adjudication against a poster for Courage. You may remember reading about it two or three months ago. In that case our decision was roundly criticised for being too strict; we were accused of being humourless and poe-faced for not seeing this ad as just funny. We thought the ad implied that drinking Courage could give you confidence.
Q463 Sandra Gidley: What are the advantages and disadvantages of self-regulation? Self-regulation does not seem to have done the banks much good.
Ms Stross: In the broadcast area it is not a self-regulatory system. Ofcom has statutory backstop powers and therefore stands behind the ASA as it were with its powers. We see the advantage of co‑regulation as being that it brings with it expertise of the industry to deal with the problem and has the potential to enable faster changes in regulation should they be warranted because the industry is engaged in the process. If you have expertise and speed it can be cheaper. We believe that where the interests of the industry are aligned with those of the back-stop regulator co-regulation can work very well.
Q464 Sandra Gidley: The statement "when the interests of the industry are aligned" is an interesting one because I would have thought the interests of the industry and its shareholders are to sell as much alcohol as possible and pour it down young people's throats.
Ms Stross: I am speaking at a slightly higher level. My colleague can probably put it better than I, but the advertising industry in general sees it as being in its interests that advertising is regarded as legal, decent, honest, truthful and a positive force in society rather than a negative one. That is the root of the self-regulatory system for advertising which has existed for a long time. That is where we see the alignment of interest between ourselves as statutory regulator and the self-regulatory aspects of the ASA.
Mr Parker: That is right. The key reason why the advertising and media businesses support and pay for co-regulation of advertising is because they want to maintain high standards in advertising. The reason they want to do that is that they know, taking the longer-term perspective, it is in their interests for standards to be high not just because it prevents restrictions that they might see as unreasonable being brought in but because if people trust advertising and believe that generally speaking it is responsible they are more likely to respond to it. If they are more likely to respond to advertising that makes the marketing budget go a bit further.
Q465 Sandra Gidley: Are you saying effectively that they are trying to be good boys and girls in plugging alcohol because if they do not do it properly we might pull the plug on the advertising?
Mr Parker: No. I am saying that the industry generally are trying to be good boys and girls because they worry that if they are not the public will lose faith in advertising and it not provide the value to them that they want it to provide.
Q466 Dr Stoate: I find those answers complacent, to say the least. You refer to the idea of the industry desiring to keep up standards. Let us not beat about the bush. It did not work with tobacco. We tried a voluntary code and all sorts of self-regulation and in the end we got so fed up with the whole lot we had to ban it. Clearly, they showed no interest whatsoever in managing to produce ads that were socially acceptable and in the end they had to go. To make a wider point, the Royal College of Physicians has told us that the misuse of alcohol in this country kills 40,000 people a year. Why do you allow the advertising of alcohol at all?
Mr Parker: One thing that is important from our perspective is that we respond as an evidence-based regulator. This inquiry comes at a good time in one sense because the codes have just been out to consultation. CAP and BCAP are still consulting on whether or not the alcohol rules should be tightened up as a result of the Shah review that I know has been discussed in quite a lot of detail in previous sessions of this inquiry. CAP and BCAP will look at the evidence and respond to those who choose to submit responses to their consultation. They must make a judgment about whether or not the evidence is good enough to justify further restrictions in the alcohol rules and that is what they will do.
Q467 Dr Stoate: We have had this with tobacco and it did not work at all. Alcohol costs billions of pounds a year in social costs in terms of damage, crime and the disorder it causes. We have evidence, which we shall be looking at later in this morning's session, that the rules are being breached left, right and centre. Obviously, I do not want to go into that right now because my colleagues will come up with examples of it during the morning session. The fact is that the current system is not working; we do not see the reductions in consumption that we need to see, and there is no question that advertising takes a big chunk of the blame for it.
Mr Parker: I think you have to look at the impact of advertising in the context of our relationship as a society with alcohol across the board. There are all sorts of things that influence drinking in this country. In this country the majority of people who drink do so sensibly. There is a big difference between alcohol and tobacco. It is generally considered true that you can consume alcohol sensibly. I am not sure one can say the same about tobacco. Important differences need to be taken into account.
Q468 Dr Stoate: The difference is that generally speaking with tobacco you harm only yourself but with alcohol quite often you harm other people. There are significant differences. Do you think we were wrong to ban tobacco advertising?
Mr Parker: I am here to talk about the ASA and its involvement in regulating alcohol advertising. I disagree with your analysis that the system you mentioned earlier does not work. I think it does work. I shall be interested to hear the examples you have found where it does not work and, if necessary, following them up, but we have a lot of good evidence that the system does work. The ASA/CAP/BCAP system must respond to society's concerns about things like alcohol based on the evidence. CAP and BCAP's view is that the evidence that alcohol advertising causes misuse is not strong, so we must take that into account when determining what our response should be. We sign up to the principles of good regulation, as you would expect us to, and two of those five or six principles are proportionality and targeting. We must make sure we do that when we consider these sorts of issues.
Q469 Dr Taylor: Do you think that those of us who hopefully drink sensibly are affected by advertising at all?
Mr Parker: Yes; I suspect it has the potential to affect everyone. The more important concern in the context of society's relationship with alcohol is whether or not such advertising causes dangerous styles or levels of drinking.
Q470 Dr Taylor: Surely, is that not where alcohol advertising is targeted, in particular to get young people started and get them to drink vast amounts?
Ms Stross: I do not think that is the case. If you look at broadcast television advertising there is a set of rules that has been designed with all drinkers in mind, but there is also a set of rules on the content of advertising that is targeted particularly at trying to protect the under-18s. This is one of the duties of Ofcom as a broadcast regulator. There is quite a body within the alcohol advertising rules that stops advertisers associating advertising with youth culture. You are not allowed to use people under 25 in an ad for alcohol. There are particular kinds of behaviour that advertising for alcohol is not allowed to depict precisely because it is felt that those styles of behaviour would be attractive to young people. There is a very direct attempt in the rules on the content of advertising to protect young people as a defined group as well as drinkers in general.
Q471 Dr Taylor: I believe Mr Parker said right at the beginning that the rules were written by the industry. Is that right?
Ms Stross: The present television advertising rules are ones that derive from Ofcom's predecessor broadcast regulator, although they are currently being consulted on by BCAP.
Mr Parker: In my opening statement I was referring generally to the rules which are written by the industry. What may have caused confusion is the fact that in late 2004 and early 2005 we took over responsibility for regulating TV and radio advertising under contract with Ofcom. Ofcom had started and nearly finished the process of strengthening the TV rules at the time we took over responsibility for the system of broadcast ad regulation. Off the back of the recommended changes to be introduced on the broadcast side the non‑broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice made equivalent strengthening changes to the non‑broadcast codes.
Q472 Dr Taylor: We are told that the assessment of the European Court of Justice is that "it is undeniable that alcohol advertising acts as an encouragement to consumption." That is pretty obvious because people would not advertise if it did not produce an increase in consumption and sales. Is this acceptable when we know about the harms caused by alcohol?
Mr Parker: I think it is why we must have tough rules and the alcohol rules are as strict as they are and do not just cover the content of ads but their scheduling and placement to make sure they are not targeted at the under-18s. It is not just about under-18s though that is one of the primary worries we have as a society. Very strict rules apply to ads that target older age groups as well. I believe that is a proportionate response to the point you make that advertising can have an effect on consumption.
Q473 Dr Taylor: If alcohol advertising was completely banned would it affect the sensible drinkers?
Ms Stross: It is very difficult to draw clear lines of causation between the advertising of alcohol and its consumption. The Shah report looks in great detail at the evidence in this area. As I understand it, its findings were that you could much more readily link the pricing of alcohol to the level of consumption than you could draw very straightforward links between the advertising of alcohol and its consumption. That is an area where the review itself said more evidence was needed. There are many factors that influence consumption and the way in which alcohol is consumed. Clearly, advertising is one of them but in thinking about what form of regulation of advertising is proportionate you have to consider how large is its effect relative to all the other effects on alcohol consumption.
Q474 Dr Taylor: Would any form of curb of advertising be proportionate or justified?
Ms Stross: Certainly in broadcast advertising those curbs exist already. One is not allowed to advertise alcohol at all in or around programmes that are either made for young people or are of particular appeal to young people. There are times when one simply cannot put alcohol advertising in one's schedule and when one can show alcohol ads their content is strictly regulated. This is already a highly regulated area.
Q475 Sandra Gidley: What about programmes like soap operas where the proportion of young people watching them falls within the regulations but the numbers watching are really high. That is not picked up, is it?
Ms Stross: It is not, because the way in which we measure whether or not a programme is deemed to be of particular appeal to a young audience is by the proportion of young people in the audience. As you say, soaps may have large numbers of young people watching them but the proportion is perhaps only half the viewing audience as in the viewing audience generally.
Q476 Sandra Gidley: But possibly they watch EastEnders more than programmes that are designed for them, so should not absolute numbers be a consideration in this as well?
Ms Stross: In a sense that is where the content rules come in.
Gidley: I meant
Ms Stross: While you can advertise alcohol around
Naysmith: Mr Parker, you have already been
accused by Dr Stoate of displaying a slight element of complacency in your
answers. The reason he may have thought that is that in describing the
regulatory system for advertising alcohol you have been using phrases such as
"not lax", "rules are strict", "tough rules" and "we've got it about right".
You suggested that the strategy was in line with the government's harm
reduction strategy for the harm it does and so on and yet things are getting
much worse. The increase in liver disease is quite obvious. When we were in
Mr Parker: I am sorry I came across as complacent; I certainly did not mean to. I hope I can communicate to you quite the opposite. We spend a lot of time and effort trying to make sure that the industry knows, understands and complies with the rules and in responding to complaints we make sure we assess them thoroughly against those rules. The situation is a bit fluid because we are in the process of consultation. CAP and BCAP will be looking at the responses which no doubt will include people who submitted the article in The Lancet to which you refer.
Q479 Dr Naysmith: What I sought to imply was that the rules do not seem to be working. The evidence suggests that they do not have much of an effect, and I suspect that later questions will be asked about that. There is no point in saying they are strict if the rules are not working.
Mr Parker: But I do not accept the conclusion you draw that the fact there are still concerns about drinking in this country means that the advertising regime is not working. We know that our relationship with advertising is subject to a very large number of factors. There has been considerable discussion in previous sessions of this inquiry about a lot of other things that might have a big impact on levels of drinking and alcohol misuse: discussions about pricing and wider availability; the impact of peer groups and family; and more liberal licensing laws now than previously. Might that have an impact? I do not know the answers to these questions, but I know there are many factors that must play a significant part in how we as a society consume alcohol. One ought not to point the finger only at alcohol advertising and say that because we still have this problem alcohol advertising must be out of control.
Naysmith: Perhaps it is not being regulated
as it is supposed to be. We are told that
Mr Parker: My understanding of the situation in
Q481 Dr Naysmith: Would you be in favour of minimum pricing?
Mr Parker: I do not have a view on that; I am here to speak for the ASA.
Ms Stross: In the area of broadcast advertising government has absolute power to impose a ban on alcohol advertising or the advertising of any other product; indeed, that was what happened to tobacco. Ofcom looks at this from the perspective of being a broadcast and not a health regulator so when it considers the issues related to a ban on advertising or much stricter restrictions on advertising alcohol we must look at it from the perspective of our duties which are to protect vulnerable groups, including in particular the under-18s.
Q482 Dr Naysmith: Health must come into that, surely.
Ms Stross: Indeed it does, and that is absolutely the perspective we would have. We also have a duty to consider the availability of a wide range of broadcast services to the population and high-quality programmes. In deciding what from a broadcast regulator's perspective is proportionate one must take into account all of those duties and reach a decision based on all the available evidence. The government if it wished could choose to take decisions from a different and purely public health perspective, but we must operate within the powers and duties we have been given by Parliament.
Q483 Jim Dowd: Mr Parker, your submission says that the ASA resolved 392 complaints about alcohol ads. What is your definition of "resolved"?
Mr Parker: As for all complaints we receive, we carry out an initial assessment to check whether or not they raise question marks under the codes. Not all complaints do so.
Q484 Jim Dowd: But if in your estimation you found one to be groundless you would still mark it down as a resolution?
Mr Parker: Yes; those are complaints that have been assessed.
Q485 Jim Dowd: So, "resolved" really means "dealt with" rather than anything else?
Mr Parker: That is exactly right. We write back to the complainant and explain in a bespoke letter why it is we do not share their view that the alcohol ad, or any ad about which they are complaining, breaches the code. There is a bit more to it than that. In the vast majority of cases where we decide not to investigate we must do a reasonable amount of preliminary work before we come to that view. One of the key things on which we place a lot of emphasis is to ensure we check our case handling system that contains all the complaints we have received over the years so that the determination we make at that stage is the right one and is consistent with previous decisions.
Q486 Jim Dowd: You say in your submission that under the new alcohol rules "the ASA has banned 18 ad campaigns" and since then that number has increased to 20. Of the almost 400 cases generally you do not say how many complaints you upheld.
Mr Parker: I do not have that figure with me at the moment but I can certainly let you have it.
Q487 Jim Dowd: Perhaps you could let us have it against the generality of the other 26,000 you receive and say whether there are more or less complaints and also the nature of them.
Mr Parker: Yes.
Q488 Jim Dowd: You say that you banned those 20 ads campaigns under the new rules. Can you give us any description of what type of ads were banned and why?
Mr Parker: I would be happy to do so. The issues varied. One point I make at the outset is that all of those 20 ads or campaigns were banned under the specific alcohol rules. There were other ads that either featured alcohol or were for alcoholic drinks with which we took issue under the general rules. Five of the uphelds were to do with youth culture and ads that reflected it and we thought might appeal to under-18s. Eight of them were linked to sexual success, so that was the principal reason why we banned those ads. In three of them there was a link with social success, and in four of those cases the issue was that the ad implied that drinking the particular brand could enhance your mood or improve your confidence. Those were the results in terms of the ads and campaigns with which we have taken issue since the introduction of the stricter rules and they are a pretty good indication of the four main areas in the specific alcohol rules where we tend to find problems.
Q489 Jim Dowd: Other than banning the publication or issue of these particular 20 ads, can you give the Committee an idea of what kind of penalties there are beyond that? I am led to believe that you have the power to levy fines.
Mr Parker: We do not but Ofcom does if we face problems with a particular broadcaster that continues to air ads that break the codes. The adjudications that we reach are published every Wednesday on our website. That results in a lot of adverse publicity for companies that are subject to upheld decisions. For almost all companies in the alcohol sector adverse publicity is very unwelcome. They want to be seen as socially responsible and it costs them dearly in terms of reputational damage. They cannot run the campaigns again; in some cases they have to pull ads that they plan to run so there is a cost involved. If we have particular problems with a company - I am not aware of it having happened for the past two or three years - we can require it to pre-vet its non-broadcast advertising with the copy advice team for a period of time. That is not necessary on the broadcast side because all TV and radio ads are pre‑cleared anyway.
Q490 Jim Dowd: You say they are pre-cleared. If they are pre-vetted I do not understand how you can find 20 of them in breach. Why do you not have pre-vetting?
Mr Parker: Not all of those 20 are broadcast. The pre-clearance of TV ads is
generally very good at spotting problems but the ASA council is the final
arbiter of whether or not an ad or campaign complies with the rules. Sometimes
it takes the view that an ad that has been pre‑cleared is still in breach
of the rules. I hope you will see from the examples I handed in earlier that as
to some of these whether or not the ad breaks the rules are judgment calls. The
Courage ad is a good example of that. It is probably the judgment of the man in
the street that that ad is okay, but the average person is unaware of the
strict rules that apply to alcohol advertising. Only when we tell them about
those rules do they appreciate why we have taken some of the decisions we have.
We have reasonably regular consumer events where we discuss the decisions we
are taking not just on alcohol but across the board with members of the public
and other interested groups to try to get a better handle on whether we are
making the right judgments. One such consumer event that we held last year in
Q491 Jim Dowd: About which category of advertising do you get most complaints? Is it a particular commodity or style?
Mr Parker: I believe that last year it was leisure which is a broad category that covers a lot of things.
Q492 Jim Dowd: That would include travel, holidays and so on?
Mr Parker: That is right. I can provide you with the official figures in our annual report, but I believe there would have been several thousand.
Q493 Jim Dowd: Are you saying that the ASA just adjudicates - or is it a binary function - on whether or not to uphold a complaint and the only penalties you impose are whether you allow it to run or it is withdrawn?
Mr Parker: That is typically the case. They are not the only sanctions available to us. I mentioned mandatory pre-vetting of non-broadcast advertising. If we have a particularly recalcitrant advertiser who refuses to comply with one of our decisions - it has not happened in the alcohol sector recently - we can send out an ad alert to the media asking them not to run the ad. That is a sanction that applies to the non-broadcast side of things; on the broadcast side there is a different system.
Q494 Jim Dowd: That does not have mandatory effect, does it?
Mr Parker: It is effective which is important. Effectively it denies space to that advertiser. They tend to be much smaller companies that are not too fussed about the fact there is an upheld adjudication against them on the website. They are not too bothered about damage to their reputation because they do not have a lot of value built into it. That is very effective. On the occasions we send out ad alerts inevitably we find that the advertiser very quickly gets in touch with copy advice complaining about it and asking for help to change the ad so they can run it again. Therefore, it is an effective sanction.
Q495 Jim Dowd: But if you have to deal with recalcitrants occasionally whom do you hold responsible for that? Is it the agency or producer?
Mr Parker: On the non-broadcast side the advertiser is primarily responsible, but we also expect agencies and any other intermediaries involved to take responsibility for ensuring that any advertising they produce on behalf of a client, or handle if they are providing mailing lists for fulfilment, complies with the codes. The media who publish advertisements have a responsibility under the codes and sign up to the system. They are a very important part of the CAP and BCAP committees and have a responsibility to make sure that the ads they publish do not harm, mislead or offend.
Q496 Chairman: I have just looked at one of the posters you passed to us. Presumably, it got through and eventually was stopped. It relates to Luxury Reborn Belvedere Vodka. It was a national press ad. I assume that it was published and then deemed not fit to be run. How does that square with the codes of alcohol advertising which refer to linking alcoholic drinks to sexual success or advertising in the context of sexual activity or seduction? Who looking at that for the first time thought it was all right to publish it nationally?
Mr Parker: That was precisely why we upheld the complaint.
Q497 Chairman: What is the system that vets it the second time around and not the first time?
Mr Parker: We know from our compliance surveys that the vast majority of ads that appear comply with the codes. Where we find compliance rates that are lower than we would like we take action and respond, but we do not pretend the system is perfect. Millions of non‑broadcast ads and billions of direct mailings and marketing emails appear each year, so you cannot conceivably pre-vet them. We spend a lot of time and effort communicating with the industry including the media so they have a good understanding of the rules that apply, but that does not mean ads that break the rules do not appear from time to time; transparently they do. If they did not we would not be publishing adjudications every Wednesday that uphold complaints against them.
Q498 Mr Scott: As to the campaigns that have been banned, how long have they been running before they are finally banned? On average what sort of time elapses?
Mr Parker: I am afraid I do not have that figure; it will depend on the nature of the campaign and on the issue. There are occasions when we will fast-track complaints including on the broadcast side. We have powers to suspend ads pending investigation if we think they are very problematic. It is a judgment call from our perspective. We have to make sure that if we take that fast-track action and pull ads spending investigation we have good grounds for it; otherwise, obviously we will lose in the courts and be liable for damages afterwards. We have a good record for making those judgments. That can deal with those ads where there is clearly a problem. In the majority of cases the judgments are more nuanced and it is less easy to make the case that there is a blatant breach of the codes. Obviously, those cases require investigation. We need to provide the advertiser with the opportunity to defend its ad. If we just banned it outright we might be subject to a successful judicial review and our decision would be overturned. The ad would then appear again. Like all other bodies that do this sort of job we must ensure we follow due process. Like the vast majority of bodies that do a job similar to ours we have processes and mechanisms in place to make sure we can much more rapidly deal with very obvious problematic ads.
Q499 Mr Scott: The current regulations are focused on controlling content. We have already heard references to that from both of you. How do you justify that approach when there is a lot of evidence that it is the volume rather than content that affects young people's behaviour?
Ms Stross: On the broadcast side, the data reveal that young people see less advertising now than they used to. Young people today probably see about 30% less alcohol advertising on TV than they did back in 2002. There has been a reduction in the amount of advertising they see and the content of that advertising is more strictly regulated today than it was in 2002.
Q500 Mr Scott: Maybe you are correct about specific advertising, but do you agree that to a certain extent it has become a lot cleverer and a lot more is directed to sponsorship where every activity to which young people would look - football, rugby and so forth - is sponsored by drinks companies? Is it not still at the forefront whether or not they see it on TV?
Ms Stross: The rules on broadcast sponsorship are effectively the same as those that apply to broadcast advertising. If you are not allowed to put alcohol advertising around a particular programme because it is popular or made for young people you are not allowed to sponsor it as an alcohol advertiser either. If you cannot advertise you cannot sponsor. There are rules around broadcast sponsorship anyway; it must not contain overt selling messages. There is clear regulation of sponsorship as well as advertising on television.
Q501 Mr Scott: Last week The Lancet referred to evidence that a lot of the content of drinks adverts had an effect on young people. I can think of a number just off the top of my head without referring to particular companies and ads. They are aimed specifically at younger people, so the rules are not working at the moment, are they?
Ms Stross: I am afraid I am not familiar with the article in The Lancet to which you refer, but all advertising is subject to the rules.
Q502 Mr Scott: The question is: do you think those rules are being adhered to?
Ms Stross: If they are not I presume that the ASA would be receiving complaints about them and dealing with them.
Mr Parker: I talked a couple of times about the compliance rates which are high. The system is not perfect and from time to time ads break the rules. In the past few years we have put a lot of effort into ensuring the industry understands the stricter rules introduced in 2005. There is a little bedding-in time. Sometimes we wish that was not the case but that is the reality we face. I do not accept or understand the conclusion that a lot of ads are aimed at young people. That is not what we find when we look at representative samples of advertising.
Q503 Chairman: Ms Stross, though it may not be your direct responsibility have you ever looked at the level of advertising for drinks that appeal to young people, for example white ciders and products like that where the unit costs are very low and they are consumed by people who have what we call problems? Have you ever looked at whether such things are advertised more than other forms of alcohol?
Ms Stross: The amount of money spent on advertising on TV has been fairly steady over the past several years.
Q504 Chairman: I am looking at the products that potentially cause antisocial behaviour in society and clearly pose a threat to the health of the individual concerned.
Ms Stross: Within a steady total you certainly get increases and decreases in the amount of advertising of particular kinds of drinks. You may perhaps be referring to cider advertising on TV which increased considerably and fell back a little in 2008 after a big spike in 2007. One sees cycles driven by fashion or perhaps a particular company's desire to put a big marketing spend behind its product.
Q505 Dr Stoate: I would like to refer to a recent evaluation that you carried out or was carried out on behalf of ASA and Ofcom into the new controls on ads focused at young people. That evaluation says that "there has been no change in how much young people say they like the adverts and there has been an increase in those saying the adverts make the drink look appealing and would encourage people to drink it." Is that a success or failure?
Ms Stross: To give that a little bit of context, when that research was undertaken by the ASA and Ofcom we specifically looked at the ads we felt were at the margins of acceptability under the rules. The ads that we evaluated in the research sessions with young people were a random sample of television alcohol advertising. It was particularly at the "edgy" end and you must place the results in that context. Having decided to use that research methodology, when we did the second wave of research we found it was more difficult to find "edgy" ads than it had been when we did the research before the rules were changed, which I think is reflective of the fact that the tightening of the rules have had some effect. What young people said to us was that while they might find the ads interesting or amusing and they could encourage people to drink they were less likely to say that the ads were targeted at them. Like all qualitative research you have to look at the thing in its entirety, but we were deliberately researching the potentially more problematic advertising on TV.
Q506 Dr Stoate: I accept that, but in your written submission you describe the findings of the evaluation as "positive". Surely, that cannot be seen as a positive contribution to public health.
Ms Stross: We were using "positive" in the sense we felt the rule change had been effective. I am not sure we were evaluating the effect of the rules on public health.
Q507 Dr Stoate: I am still not sure how you can say the rule change has been effective when there has been an increase in the number of people who think that ads make the products look appealing and would encourage people to drink them. I am slightly confused about how that can be seen as a success.
Ms Stross: The point is that the young people we were specifically talking to in the research did not feel the ads were targeted at them, so they were talking slightly more hypothetically about the effect the advertising might have on other people and believed it was less focused on themselves.
Q508 Dr Stoate: But to say that it was not aimed at them but they found them rather good is a specious argument. I do not quite see the distinction.
Mr Parker: I think there is a distinction between saying you think an ad will make you drink more and saying you think an ad may make the audience of the ad drink more. In our research there were certainly results that caused us to stop and think. Those two particular responses from young people were the key ones that made us stop and think and ask ourselves whether we had got that bit of it right, but the research covered a lot else. We took some reassurance from the fact that for the under-18s who responded to the question, "Are the ads aimed at people like me?" the net score was reduced from -11% to -33% which is a big reduction. For the two findings you mentioned about which we were not so happy the net scores for the under-18s increased from 22% to 29% and from 21% to 26%. I believe those are statistically significant increases. That was what caused us to think whether we needed to do more here. We did not go into the post-research knowing what the results would be; there is no point in doing research if that is the case. We learnt from it. We had extensive discussions about it with the ASA council and asked ourselves whether we were always getting it right when we adjudicated on cases. In the past year or two we have taken some decisions that maybe we would not have arrived at prior to the emergence of the 2007 research. I do not know whether you have the figures, but I can certainly share them with you. As to the number of ads and campaigns we have upheld against, there were rather more in 2008 than in the previous two or three years. One must be very careful about saying that is caused by our reaction to the 2007 research. As always, there are lots of factors that may have affected it, but it probably did play a part in it.
Q509 Dr Naysmith: In that same research report you talked about "kiddult marketing" which "blurs the fixed lines between adults and children". Do you think the current regulations protect children from "kiddult" advertising?
Mr Parker: I think the rules do and that our interpretation of them does so. It is very often all in the interpretation. That is why the 2007 research, the other research that is around and our feedback from consumer events and other engagements we have with the public are so useful. It gives us a better handle on whether we are getting the balance right and drawing the right conclusions. We are very careful to ensure that ads do not have youth appeal and contain elements that reflect youth culture. It is never a black and white situation. Very often these decisions are not easy to come to because there are quite good arguments on both sides, but we have an undoubted tradition of interpreting these rules strictly. What I am really talking about are varying degrees of strictness. If you spoke to those in the industry - I daresay you will in future sessions - they would corroborate that. Quite often they take issue with the specific decisions that we reach because they think we are being overly strict even though they are generally supportive of self-regulation.
Q510 Dr Naysmith: It must be a particularly difficult when you have to avoid links to youth culture and sporting success with alcohol sponsorship of music festivals such as T in the Park and premiership football. You said there had been a 30% reduction in the amount of advertising that young people see on television, but does that include the names of drink companies on footballers' shirts and things like that?
Ms Stross: No.
Q511 Dr Naysmith: That could represent an increase while at the same time there is a reduction in direct advertising?
Ms Stross: That is theoretically possible. My statistic referred to the number of occasions on which one young person sees an alcohol ad. That has certainly dropped, but I do not have the measurements for either sponsorship or the kind of thing to which you are referring, for example where somebody wears a football shirt with a logo on it. That kind of sponsorship exists entirely independently of the broadcast world; that is football team sponsorship.
Q512 Dr Naysmith: But there is quite a lot of football broadcasting nowadays. We see these ads when matches are broadcast.
Ms Stross: That is true. It is not an area that we are able directly to regulate. That is the regulation of football rather than TV broadcasting.
Q513 Dr Naysmith: It is not within your purview because it is not direct broadcasting, but do you measure that?
Ms Stross: I do not know of a way to measure it. It would be extremely difficult. Not only do you have to measure how much there is but how much it is watched. There are precise systems to do that with advertising.
Q514 Dr Naysmith: It would be really interesting to try to measure whether or not it had any effect but you cannot do that.
Ms Stross: In a sense that harks back to the point made by the Shah report. It is very difficult directly to link promotion to consumption effects. That link is more difficult in the case of advertising and promotion than it is with price.
Mr Parker: There is a limit to my knowledge on sponsorship for the simple reason that the codes do not cover such arrangements. They cover advertising for sponsored events and they are subject to the same rules that apply to other ads, but I know a little about the European Sponsorship Association because it is a member of the European Advertising Standards Alliance. It joined relatively recently. I think they have recently published a survey on alcohol sponsorship which is available on their website and you may find some of the answers you seek there.
Q515 Dr Naysmith: How effective do you think the current controls are on internet and viral advertising? Are there controls that work?
Mr Parker: This is for me because predominantly it is non-broadcast advertising. We cover a fair amount online: paid for advertising; sales promotions wherever they appear; direct marketing emails; and viral advertising. We do not yet cover marketing communication messages on companies' own websites, but there are advanced discussions within the industry looking at extending the remit of the system to cover just that. I hope they will very soon be in a position to announce that that will happen.
Q516 Jim Dowd: I am looking here at a chart taken from the 2007 report to which reference has already been made. It refers to "total alcoholic drinks commercial impacts" and reveals a welcome decline over the period 2002 to 2006 which covers the latest figures available when the report was compiled. I do not fully understand it. Can you tell me what a commercial impact is?
Ms Stross: A commercial impact is one viewer seeing one television ad. I think that the chart you are looking at refers to viewers of a particular demographic group - 10 to 15 year-olds - so the question is: how many times did 10 to 15 year-olds see alcohol advertising each year?
Q517 Jim Dowd: It appears to indicate that 11 year-olds were not exposed to these commercial impacts as often as 23 year-olds. But there are 181 impacts for 23 year-olds compared with 130 for an 11 year-old. Why on earth are 11 year-olds being impacted by alcohol advertising?
Ms Stross: I think it is because the average 11 year-old will watch some programmes that are made specifically for children where you would not find alcohol advertising, but they also find the same programmes appeal to them to some extent as appeal to people in general. Therefore, I presume that the 130 impacts to which you refer are ads that they see in and around programmes that are not targeted specifically at young people but are popular with the general audience.
Mr Parker: That is the reason why ostensibly there are two levels of protection when it comes to TV advertising, first through the scheduling rules to prevent an affinity with or association between programming for young people and alcohol advertising. But no one is saying that that reduces all exposure; it does not. That is why you have the second level of content rules to deal with the fact that there is some exposure.
Q518 Jim Dowd: Effectively, this is collateral damage rather than grooming, for example?
Mr Parker: I do not believe I would use those words. The content and scheduling rules come as a package. I think that package is important given the situation you would have in society without it.
Q519 Jim Dowd: You say there is no ulterior motive to market alcohol to 11 year-olds; there is no sub-text here?
Ms Stross: Advertisers are generally responsible and comply with the rules. It is also the case that what that chart measures is all alcohol advertising. That will be for the full range of alcoholic drinks products some of which will be more and some less appealing. There may be products that are advertised within that in which, frankly, young people are very unlikely to have any interest but they happen to see an ad for it during a programme they are watching on TV.
Q520 Jim Dowd: We come to the thorny question of age. Part of the code is that advertising must not appeal to those under 18. What devices are in place to ensure that an advertisement can legitimately appeal to an 18 year-old but not a 17 year-old?
Mr Parker: There are the scheduling placement rules we talked about and the content rules. A good example of one of the content rules applicable in this area is that people who feature in alcohol ads should not be under 25, nor should they look under 25.
Q521 Jim Dowd: Who judges that?
Mr Parker: Ultimately, the ASA council will take a decision on whether or not they think someone looks under 25. It is easy to find out whether or not they are under 25; the judgment about whether they look under 25 is obviously a subjective one. But a lot of the judgments that we have a responsibility to make in all spheres of advertising are subjective. The straightforward question of whether or not an ad is likely to cause serious or widespread offence is ultimately a subjective judgment, so we have a lot of experience of doing that. I think that is a good example of a rule set at a very high level to make sure that people in alcohol ads who drink, participate or play a central part in them are not individuals who some may think are under 18.
Q522 Jim Dowd: To be certain that is the case you have to set the threshold a lot higher, would you not? If you used pensioners with zimmer frames and things like that it would be obvious they were not 25. To be certain you would have to set it a good deal higher than 25 given it is a subjective judgment.
Mr Parker: We think that the seven-year gap is sufficient and allows us to take the right decisions. We do not receive many complaints about the ages of people featured in alcohol ads; when we do they are ads that depict family occasions when there are children who do not play a central role in the ad and obviously are not shown drinking. I do not think there is a general concern that that rule is set at the wrong level.
Q523 Chairman: We have all been through this. When you were 14, 15 or 16 did you not aspire to be 18, 19 or 20? In adolescence you want to be old; when you get to my age you want to be younger. I listened to the arguments about age and advertising throughout the debates we had on tobacco. With all respect to you, the idea that somebody aged 16 or 17 does not aspire to be a bit older at that time is unrealistic.
Mr Parker: I am sure that is true of a lot of the under-18s.
Q524 Chairman: What does the code mean?
Mr Parker: The system is there to make sure that ads comply with the rules and that advertising is responsible and targeted appropriately. I do not think you can draw a link between the fact a lot of under-18s may aspire to be and behave older and the ASA CAP regime for regulating alcohol ads. We are there to make sure that the ads comply with the rules and CAP and BCAP are in the process of looking at whether or not to change those rules taking into account the evidence out there. I believe that is the right way for things to be at the moment.
Q525 Chairman: That is how the system works. Is it the case that you cannot fix rules in this area and it is very likely that rules that are fixed for 18 year-olds will attract people who are younger than 18, or do you believe that cannot be the case?
Ms Stross: The intention behind the rules is to protect all people who are under 18. I am sure that in interpreting whether or not an ad complies with the rules you would probably recognise that young people are aspirational in the way they live their lives generally, not just in relation to advertising. My colleague has talked about the current consultation process. The ASA and BCAP within it will arrive at a proposed set of rules for broadcast advertising at the end of the process that they feel is right. That will go to Ofcom which will look at the proposals that the ASA makes and all the evidence it has received in order to arrive at those judgments not just in relation to alcohol but the code as a whole. The content board of Ofcom ultimately has responsibility for approving or otherwise the proposed code that is put in front of it some time around the end of the year. There is almost a three-stage process for looking at the code. The ASA and BCAP themselves have a body called the Advertising Advisory Council which is a lay body whose advice they must take into account and Ofcom has final sign-off on the code.
Q526 Chairman: Are there any examples in the papers you gave us this morning where you have rejected it on the basis that the ad would appeal to somebody under 18?
Mr Parker: There are four or five.
Chairman: It would be nice to have comparators showing what would and would not appeal to somebody under 18 years of age.
Q527 Dr Taylor: A specific example of a controversial marketing campaign is Lambrini. We are told that last December the Committee of Advertising Practice advised against the use of Coleen Rooney because she was obviously under 25. Do you regard that as one of your successes or is the CAP entirely separate from you?
Mr Parker: That is the CAP copy advice team to which I alluded earlier. I have been referring to it as the copy advice team. I understand that that copy team was in discussion with Halewood International about that.
Q528 Dr Taylor: To get rid of Coleen Rooney from these actual ads is one of your successes?
Mr Parker: She could not have appeared legitimately in ads.
Q529 Dr Taylor: You said that the codes did not cover sponsorship. Is that why the firm immediately transferred her appearances and advertised the sponsoring of her ITV television show?
Ms Stross: That comes to Ofcom because we regulate sponsorship on television. The rules on sponsorship are in effect the same as those that apply to advertising, so she could not have been involved in the sponsorship of a programme herself within a sponsorship credit because she is under 25. You could not have seen her in what we call the sponsorship break bumpers that sit in front of and behind a programme to show that it is sponsored. One must then look at the nature of the programme being sponsored by an alcohol brand. The programme Lambrini is sponsoring is not one that in our judgment is of particular appeal to young people. It appears post-watershed and it is a chat show. I do not believe it is targeted at the under-18s. Whilst she may be hosting the chat show what you cannot do within the programme is make promotional references to the sponsor in any way. That is absolutely against the sponsorship rules.
Q530 Dr Taylor: That is within the programme?
Ms Stross: Yes.
Taylor: But we have been given an example of
an advertisement for the programme which at the top says "Lambrini sponsors Coleen's Real Women" with a nice picture
of her. Then it goes on, "Lambrini is the number one WineStar drink in the
Ms Stross: I am not familiar with that particular use but I do not think that is on television because you would not be allowed to use a selling message like that within television sponsorship.
Q532 Chairman: If we are told that people under 25 should not be used for advertising alcohol what does this mean?
Mr Parker: We looked into this issue yesterday having had relatively short notice that we might be questioned on it. There is a limit to the amount we have been able to find out in the past 24 hours. We do not believe that any Lambrini ads referring to the sponsorship of the programme, which I believe is called Coleen's Real Women, have appeared in the media that are subject to the codes. I cannot say for sure but from the readout it looks and sounds like trade PR on the website perhaps and is aimed at retailers that might be deciding what to stock and what not to stock. If the remit of the system is extended further to cover more online maybe this sort of thing would fall under the rules, but it does not at the moment. Were there to be a poster ad in pay for space or a print ad along the lines you suggest certainly we would want to take a very careful look at it.
Taylor: We would ask you to look into this
because on the face of it if this sort of thing is around it makes a mockery of
the regulations. Clearcast told Lambrini that its strapline "Lambrini girls
just wanna have fund" was unacceptable and had to be changed. We are told that
that strapline still appears in a variety of places: 10 to 30-second TV ads,
tube posters and on
Ms Stross: If Clearcast who are pre-vetting the content of television advertising have said that a strapline is not acceptable it absolutely should not be on television - end of story. I cannot speak for the other non-broadcast media, but Clearcast pre-vets and if it says an ad contravenes the code no broadcaster will schedule that ad.
Q534 Dr Taylor: Again, does it not make a mockery of the system? If these things still appear and advertisers are breaking this rule what punishment should be handed down? Do you have any punishments available?
Mr Parker: We talked a little earlier about sanctions, but it sounds from what you said that it is more non-broadcast than broadcast. I am afraid I do not know anything about the situation. I must look into it and get back to you, which I would be happy to do.
Q535 Dr Taylor: Are we just touching the tip of the iceberg? Are there lots of other controversial marketing campaigns that do not come before you and you do not spot?
Mr Parker: I do not think that is the case. I can comment only on the marketing communications that are subject to our codes because that is what we seek to regulate and make sure it is responsible and complies with the rules. I just refer back to the comments I made about our compliance surveys that cover all media we regulate. Those have consistently shown there is not a general problem with non-compliance. There are specific concerns we pick up and address. The 2006 compliance rate of 95% was at the lower end of what we considered acceptable and caused us to respond. I do not believe there is a general problem with advertisers flouting the rules.
Q536 Dr Taylor: We could ask you to look into those two particular aspects and get back to us.
Ms Stross: Yes.
Chairman: I understand that one of the straplines to which we have referred is not being broadcast but is streamed on the website.
Jim Dowd: It is a narrowcast.
Q537 Dr Taylor: Is there any control over what can be streamed on the website?
Mr Parker: That is precisely what the industry is looking into at the moment in terms of extending the remit. It is because of concerns that there is a remit gap that that is being done amongst others. We also receive a lot of complaints from members of the public about the content of companies' own websites. A lot of them do not understand when we write back why it is not subject to the codes because as far as they are concerned it is advertising. We are hopeful that soon there will be good news on this front and the rules will be applied further in the digital area and will capture this sort of thing.
Q538 Dr Taylor: At the moment there is no control over what goes on a website and you think there could be in future?
Mr Parker: There is not an absence of any control because pay for space online like banner ads, popups, skyscrapers and such formats are subject to the rules and have been since the internet became popular, but the actual content of companies' own websites has not been subject to the rules and it is to the marketing communications in that space that the industry is currently considering extending the rules.
Q539 Jim Dowd: You say that you can institute controls but these are only by consent. Technically, you cannot institute physical controls. What happens if one advertiser says it will not do it? What sanction is there against the advertiser pulling out of the ASA regime altogether?
Mr Parker: You cannot opt in or out of the regime; it is not voluntary. The industry funds it and if it thought there was no point to it presumably it would pull the plug and the ASA would cease to exist and something else would have to take its place. Compliance with the rules is not voluntary. There are various sanctions to which I have alluded that we could and would seek to bring to bear. One matter that the industry group is looking at in the context of extending the remit is exactly the point to which you allude. What sort of enforcement action can be brought to bear? In the vast majority of cases there are pretty powerful sanctions that can be brought to bear. In the area of truthfulness, misleading content and comparisons, which covers a huge number of the issues that we deal with on a daily basis, the OFT acts ostensibly as a backstop. If we run into trouble with a company because it is persistently or flagrantly breaching the rules we will refer it to the OFT and it can take action under the consumer protection regulations. On the broadcast side we have talked about Ofcom having backstop powers. There are other sanctions we can bring to bear in different areas. One thing we will have to grapple with is whether we would always be able to enforce our decisions if the remit was extended. My view is that the benefit of extending the system significantly further in the digital area far outweighs the risk that from time to time there will be small companies that do not care about their reputations and will want to flout the rules and against whom we will find it difficult to enforce the rules. The balance has changed greatly in the past few years in that respect and it is now worth our doing it.
Q540 Mr Scott: I refer to two types of campaign that are running on TV to the best of my knowledge. One is built on the theme of socialising and presenting a particular brand of beer as one of the lads that can engage with other blokes in a group. Would that contravene the code? There is also an ad for a vodka brand which says that it "releases the Super Me. . .because when I drink it I feel I am in the know and part of an elite group." I have never heard of the brand but that is neither here nor there. Would those two ads contravene the rules?
Mr Parker: I have never heard of the last one you mention. You will understand that I cannot give you a definitive judgment now on whether or not it is in breach, but I can talk a little about the issues you raise. The first example you gave involving the beer brand is an interesting one. We considered it very carefully. The judgment we came to in the end was that it was on the right side of the line, but it was not an easy judgment to come to. We thought that the general message of the campaign was about conviviality, taking part in social occasions and rejoicing in that. We did not think the implication of it was that if you drank the product you would go from being a loner to someone with lots of friends. There was a good deal of consideration and discussion about it in several ASA council meetings because we looked at several ads. I shall be honest and say they were not easy decisions to come to.
Q541 Chairman: Ms Stross, has the current economic climate been tough on advertising in terms of bringing in revenue for different organisations?
Ms Stross: Absolutely. Advertising revenues on TV have fallen significantly. I believe that last year they fell by about 5%. We expect TV advertising revenue to fall by at least 15% this year and maybe a few more per cent next year. There has been a real reduction in spending.
Chairman: I thank both of you very much. We have had an interesting and informative session.
Witnesses: Mr Derek Lewis, Chairman, The Drinkaware Trust, and Mr David Poley, Chief Executive, Portman Group, gave evidence.
Q542 Chairman: I welcome you to the fourth evidence session in our inquiry into alcohol. For the record perhaps you would give your names and the positions you currently hold.
Mr Lewis: I am Derek Lewis, chairman of the Drinkaware Trust.
Mr Poley: I am David Poley, chief executive of the Portman Group.
Q543 Chairman: Who funds the trust and the Portman Group, and what is the relationship between the two bodies?
Mr Lewis: The trust is funded by the alcohol industry and at this point in its history the Portman Group has been the largest single contributor to its funding.
Mr Poley: The Portman Group is funded by nine major drinks producers and we are committed to giving the Drinkaware Trust about £2.2 million a year for each of the first three years of its operation.
Q544 Chairman: I understand that at the moment you have some targets for raising funds as opposed to a system of voluntary contributions. Is that something you can share with us?
Mr Lewis: The trust was set up in 2006 and commenced its activities at the beginning of 2007. A memorandum of understanding was signed between government and the devolved administrations and the alcohol industry, in this case represented by the Portman Group, which set some targets for the funding of the trust of £3 million, £4 million and £5 million respectively for the years 2007 to 2009.
Q545 Chairman: Do the major supermarkets contribute to the fund?
Mr Lewis: They do. At this point the bulk of the funding comes from the Portman Group but we get money from the major supermarket and off licence chains as well as a number of members of the on trade pub companies.
Q546 Dr Stoate: I want to ask whether Drinkaware meets its target. Mr Lewis, you said that you had targets over three financial years. Are you anywhere near that in terms of the money you get?
Mr Lewis: We are some way off it. To be honest, the current level of funding is disappointing. For the past two years it has been approximately £2.7 million and this year it may be rather higher than that, but it will still be about 40% short of the £5 million target. There are some extenuating circumstances in that the trust got off to a somewhat slow start and did not spend in its first year and a half the majority of the funding subscribed so that made it difficult to ask for additional money from the industry at that time.
Q547 Dr Stoate: But you are 40% short on your current target. That is not very encouraging. What will happen after three years because you have got only three years' funding from the Portman Group?
Mr Lewis: That is the big issue. Our attention now is focused not on the first three years but what happens after the end of this year. We are in the middle of a review of the Drinkaware Trust one of the key objectives of which is to establish a rather better basis for funding for 2010 and beyond. That needs to achieve two things: first, to ensure there is an adequate minimum level of cash funding from the industry, which I suspect needs to be at least at the £5 million level targeted for 2009; second, to ensure we have wider participation across the industry and an equitable basis for asking members of the industry to provide contributions.
Q548 Dr Stoate: Since they are all voluntary and you have managed to achieve only just over half of what you said you would start with, do you have much optimism? We are talking about £5 million-plus in future when the Portman Group has already said that it will give you only three years' funding.
Mr Lewis: I am always optimistic.
Q549 Dr Stoate: But in real terms you have about nine months to sort this out?
Mr Lewis: We have rather less than nine months because we need to ensure we have visibility of future funding before we get to the end of this year; otherwise, it will be quite impossible to plan our programme of activity for 2010.
Q550 Dr Stoate: What does that tell you about how the drinks industry sees you?
Mr Lewis: I think there are some extenuating circumstances over the past couple of years: not only the slow start but the surplus of cash on the balance sheet and to some extent the economic environment. We are going into the review with a very clear set of objectives which are essentially those I have just described supported by government. There is support from the industry to achieve a successful outcome. As part of the Drinkaware review we also have the benefit of an independent audit of the effectiveness of the trust during its first two and a half years' existence. That is nearing completion and it will reinforce the need for at least £5 million of cash funding from the industry for the trust to be able to be effective.
Q551 Dr Stoate: I agree with that, but while we are at it let us do some naming and shaming. Tesco provided a grand total of £75,000 out of gross profits of about £2 billion last year. Waitrose managed a cool £5,000. I do not know about this year, but Asda did slightly better at £30,000 last year, and Sainsbury's and Lidl provided about £50,000. That not much of a ringing endorsement, is it, if the retailers can come up with a total of £95,000 this year?
Mr Lewis: I think the proof of the pudding will be in the success of our current set of discussions with the industry. If out of that we can come up with a formula whereby the industry commits to that minimum level of funding in which all sectors of the industry play an equitable part that will be a success. We can then consign the details of the first three years of funding to history. In my view that is our key task at present.
Q552 Dr Stoate: I am a bit of a cynic. To put a straightforward question, how does the industry funding of social marketing campaigns compare with the money spent on marketing their products? How would you put those two in context?
Mr Lewis: I am not sure you can necessarily equate the two. I am sure those from the industry would give a better explanation of that. Clearly, the amount of money that so far has been subscribed to the Drinkaware Trust is dramatically less than the amount the industry spends on marketing and promotion.
Q553 Dr Stoate: Mr Poley, we are talking about £21/2 million for the Drinkaware Trust. What is the advertising spend for the industry?
Mr Poley: I am not exactly sure but I would guess it is in the region of £150 million to £200 million a year.
Q554 Dr Stoate: So, we are talking about 1% or possibly 2% of the actual advertising spend being spent on social awareness campaigns?
Mr Poley: Quite possibly, yes, but we are comparing two different things. Money that is dedicated to social responsibility campaigns and the promotion of responsible drinking should not be compared with brand advertising, the implication being that the latter encourages or promotes irresponsible drinking.
Dr Stoate: But it gives you some reasonable comparison. If the industry is prepared to spend £150 million on advertising its products and only £21/2 million on promoting social responsibility in drinking I think we can draw our own conclusions.
Q555 Chairman: Do supermarkets do things outside your organisations and within their own stores to promote social responsibility?
Mr Poley: I should clarify that the Portman Group is a drinks producer organisation, not a dedicated social responsibility organisation for drinks producers. We can speak only on behalf of that sector of the industry.
Q556 Chairman: Do you think that they spend more money on social responsibility than they put into the trust?
Mr Lewis: They do. It varies according to the supermarket chain but they certainly have their own initiatives in many cases. They also provided in-store space for a campaign that we ran last year to promote the messages we were trying to communicate about sensible drinking, and the industry which includes the supermarket chains proposes to take a further initiative to address the young adult market which is one we have not had the funds to address at this point.
Q557 Jim Dowd: Supermarkets retail substantial volumes of own label product. Does that not bring them within your purview?
Mr Poley: No. Our nine member companies will account for about 50% to 60% of
Q558 Jim Dowd: Would they tend to be the people from whom the supermarkets get their own label stuff?
Mr Poley: I do not believe so. Our member companies will generally have well-known premium brands as opposed to supplying the supermarkets with own brand label stuff.
Mr Lewis: The Portman Group has been the most stalwart group in funding the trust.
Q560 Dr Taylor: So far?
Mr Lewis: Yes.
Q561 Dr Taylor: But you are so good that they will remove it?
Mr Lewis: The Portman Trust has made no suggestion that it will reduce its commitment. We always hope that it may increase it. An important point to dwell upon for a moment is that the trust is an independent organisation with a very specific remit which is to provide information and education. It is evidence-based so that the consumers of alcohol and other interested parties can make informed judgments about how they use it. The question sometimes raised is whether that is possible when the funding comes from the alcohol industry and we have on our board people who are employed by it, but the trust does defend its independence with great rigour. We view the presence of people on its board from the alcohol industry as helpful because it brings a considerable amount of expertise, but they are in a minority. When they are on the board they are there to represent the interests of the trust, not their parent organisations.
Q562 Dr Taylor: How do you respond to suggestions that you were established to provide an acceptable face for the alcohol industry?
Mr Lewis: I do not think that is true at all. My judgment is that those from the industry who were instrumental in establishing the trust had a genuine and serious concern to make a contribution to dealing with the problem of alcohol. They have been very positive and helpful in supporting the work of the trust. I sense no hidden agenda on their part in trying to influence the activities of the trust to mitigate its effect and help their own interests as companies.
Q563 Dr Taylor: Your stated aim is to promote responsible drinking. How do you get that across to younger age groups?
Mr Lewis: We have established two principal target audiences for our work:
one is underage drinkers, the under-18s; the other is the mature adult
drinkers. We chose those because they were not being extensively addressed by
other agencies. In the case of the underage drinker it is a difficult audience
for the alcohol industry to address directly anyway. A lot of the conventional
media approaches are simply not appropriate and any communications programme
that appears to be adults telling children what to do is almost bound to fail.
For that reason we have been relatively slow in developing our own strategy. We
have undertaken quite a lot of research about what will and will not work in
that area. We also have a portfolio of activities now being launched. A lot of
that is around education, supporting teachers and others in their work with
children; a lot of it is around developing peer-to-peer programmes so that
children learn from their own peers in a way that is not threatening to them.
We do that both through our own programmes and some of the grants we give, such
as a substantial one we gave recently for a programme that incorporates an
alcohol education element in a sports-related programme for children in the
Q564 Dr Taylor: If you really were successful and got drinkers to keep to recommended guidelines what would be the effect on sales?
Mr Lewis: I have not calculated that. Undoubtedly it would be a significant effect, but everyone on the board of the Drinkaware Trust would regard that as a major accomplishment and a real market success. We are a long way off that; this is a long-term programme.
Q565 Dr Taylor: So, you really value your independence from the industry?
Mr Lewis: Absolutely; we zealously guard it.
Q566 Dr Taylor: Even though your results could go against the interests of the industry?
Mr Lewis: Yes. We have very strong representation from the health community. In the room today you have an adviser who is one of our trustees, and one of the witnesses from the health community who is to follow is also a trustee. I think that that together with the presence of three entirely independent trustees is the safeguard of the independence of the organisation.
Q567 Dr Naysmith: This area is bedevilled by the fact that evidence on the effects of advertising is sometimes quite difficult to obtain so people tend to argue from both sides of the same piece of research and say it supports both arguments. There are, however, nowadays some good reports. The World Health Organization report Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity presented evidence and argued that public education was one of the least effective policy responses to the problems of alcohol because it promoted measures that tended not to interfere with companies' business operations rather than more effective measures which some of us suggest would adversely affect profitability. You are both engaged in the area of trying to educate the public. Mr Lewis has suggested some novel ways of doing it that probably have not been tried before. What do you think of that report? It is probably the least effective thing you can do to try to control the amount of alcohol that is abused by the population.
Mr Lewis: I am not sure I can tell you which of the various activities will be effective. It seems to me there is a requirement for a portfolio of activities to deal with the very serious problem of excessive alcohol consumption and harm, but I believe that education and information has a vital part to play in that because there is evidence that it can be successful. We have some early indications of that in our own work. You may have seen the campaign How Much is Too Much? that we ran in major metropolitan areas last autumn The research from that showed an encouraging level of awareness of the advertisements and a very high number of people, about 75%, said that it had caused them to stop and think about their alcohol consumption and might lead them to change their behaviour. We have also seen a massive increase in traffic on our website. We now have about 130,000 unique visitors a month to our website. That is a very significant audience of people who voluntarily seek information about alcohol and its effects. One must believe that over time - it will take time and commitment - that will start to have an influence on behaviour, but it is only one component. In any event, it seems to me there is an obligation on society to make available the right information about the effects of alcohol. For example, a car manufacturer would not dream of producing a car without a handbook that had all the safety advice in it. Equally, when marketing a product like alcohol it is an imperative that that same safety advice is made widely available and accessible to those who use the product.
Q568 Dr Naysmith: We know that in society and in medical terms the harm caused by alcohol is increasing, in some areas quite rapidly. We know that price can have an effect on alcohol consumption. Maybe the effect is not quite as direct as with tobacco but it is similar. Would it not be much more sensible to introduce policies to try to limit the amount of alcohol consumed particularly by young people which we know work much better than education which all the evidence suggests may or may not have an effect?
Mr Lewis: I do not think it is an "either or" but an "and and" question. There must be a role for information; people have the right to have access to evidence-based intelligible information. Equally, there is a place for other measures as well. It is not the role of the Drinkaware to advise governments or other bodies on their activities other than acknowledge that it simply fills one particular need in a spectrum of activities.
Q569 Dr Naysmith: Mr Poley, in the past I have had numerous discussions with representatives of the Portman Group. They argue that the drinks industry engage in advertising in order to encourage the consumption of one brand rather than another but then they deny that it encourages an increase in alcohol consumption overall. I just think it is very unlikely that that is true, but what do you think of it in the context of what we have just been talking about?
Mr Poley: Perhaps I may first address the question of education. We hear the
argument that education does not work. To my mind, this is a completely wrong
argument. One needs to look only at the example of drink driving for evidence
of how it can work. Over the past 25 years deaths from drink driving have been
slashed by about 70% in the
Dr Naysmith: I am not sure the evidence on that is quite as good as you suggest.
Q570 Mr Scott: Do you accept the problems associated with alcohol are best tackled at a population level through policies such as perhaps minimum pricing and controls on the level of alcohol advertising rather than through information campaigns?
Mr Poley: We believe that the best way to tackle alcohol misuse is to focus
on the misusers rather than try to get everyone in the whole population to
drink less. In the
Q571 Mr Scott: Do you accept that the evidence put forward to us clearly shows that advertising increases both the uptake of drinking and consumption among young people?
Mr Poley: I think it will be a weak effect at best. The
Q572 Mr Scott: But evidence has come from the European Court of Justice, the European Union Science Group, three peer reviews and systematic literature reviews and that has now been endorsed by The Lancet. Do you say they are all wrong?
Mr Poley: There is a variety of research out there and, depending on the
researchers and the methodology they use, they arrive at different results.
That is why when
Q573 Mr Scott: So, you believe that all of those are incorrect?
Mr Poley: There will be other studies that can be set against them and I suggest we should come to a different view.
Q574 Jim Dowd: I should like to do what Members of Parliament are most eager to do and quote myself. I put the following question to a couple of academics who appeared at our first session of evidence in April. Referring to campaigns to promote responsible drinking by the drinks company I asked whether they regarded "them as (a) ineffective, (b) counter-productive or (c) total hypocrisy." Dr Anderson, a consultant in public health and adviser to the World Health Organization and European Commission, replied: "We would say that it is likely to be ineffective in terms of reducing harm. It is counter-productive in the sense that it leads to a more positive view about the alcohol industry serving the drinks which tends then to make people feel a bit easier about drinking. In a way it is hypocritical because if you were an industry wanting to be serious about reducing harm then you would have to be serious about agreeing to certain things that would reduce harm." He referred to something like minimum pricing or seriously reducing the investment in advertising. How do you respond to that?
Mr Lewis: There are probably issues about drinks companies conducting responsible drinking campaigns under their own brand names, but the distinguishing feature of the Drinkaware Trust is that none of its campaigns makes any reference at all to the drinks companies that provide the funding. They are issued under the Drinkaware brand and we go to great lengths to try to ensure that the general public recognises Drinkaware as an independent organisation with the precautions I talked about earlier. It also now has an independent medical panel that vets all of the publications it issues to get to the point where the reality and perception among the public is that the trust is an independent source of information they can trust. The evidence is that we are progressively moving towards that point.
Mr Poley: As my colleague says, the campaigns of the trust do not promote any particular brands. It is fine if companies choose to do either brand-based or corporate-based responsibility campaigns on top of that as long as they are done in a genuine way and are properly researched and not cynical. I would not automatically assume that they would be cynical. Our member companies along with others in the industry at the moment will use their brand advertising, for example, to promote the Drinkaware website address. That is responsible no doubt for driving an awful lot of traffic to that address. I believe it now has 130,000 unique visitors a month. No doubt a significant proportion of those visitors will have been driven there through the use of the site in brand advertising. I do not think that is cynicism on the part of the industry; it is a genuine attempt to help educate the public.
Q575 Jim Dowd: Presumably, you would equally resist the charge of hypocrisy?
Mr Poley: Yes.
Q576 Jim Dowd: What is the attitude of the witnesses to health warnings on alcohol products?
Mr Poley: All of our member companies are committed to putting certain information on their drinks packaging; that is to say, they have information that they put on voluntarily about the number of alcohol units they contain. They also put on the Drinkaware website address and they will also have a responsible drinking message such as "Please drink responsibly". I do not believe it is necessarily appropriate to have a health warning on a drink of alcohol. Alcohol is not like cigarettes; it is capable of being misused but when drunk in moderation it is perfectly compatible with a healthy lifestyle. For certain groups when drunk in moderation it has health advantages. To put on a soundbyte in the form of a health warning label seems to me to be an unbalanced way to convey the complex information about the health effects of drinking.
Q577 Jim Dowd: Are you not being totally disingenuous? This inquiry and the nation generally are not concerned with the vast majority of people who drink responsibly. We are talking of a particular product with particular characters and a capacity for social disruption and the message is that drinking the product excessively can cause harm to yourself and others. I accept that you could, if you like, put that on a bottle of bleach, but we are talking here about alcohol. For the people who do not drink excessively it will have no impact whatsoever; for those who do drink excessively it may have no impact whatsoever, but it must be worth doing.
Mr Poley: You say there is no evidence that it will have a positive effect.
Q578 Jim Dowd: I did not say that.
Mr Poley: Where health warning labels are in effect elsewhere the evidence seems to indicate that it does not have a significant impact on people's knowledge and behaviour; indeed, it just becomes wallpaper and people dismiss it after a certain period of time. Having the information we have on the product at the moment in terms of directing people towards the Drinkaware website where they can get comprehensive information is a more appropriate way to use packaging.
Q579 Chairman: I do not know whether the Portman Group has any publications about
Mr Poley: It is an interesting and thorough piece of work that is a very useful contribution to our knowledge in these areas.
Q580 Chairman: In view of what you said about advertising - you referred to brand switching which is an expression I have heard in relation to other matters - I should like to have on paper your views on it.
Mr Lewis: The independent audit of the Drinkaware review will be available in a couple of days' time and we shall be very happy to make that available to the Committee, if that is helpful.
Chairman: That would be appreciated. Thank you very much for coming along to help us today.
Witnesses: Ms Sonya Branch, Senior Director, Markets and Projects - Goods, Office of Fair Trading, Professor David Foxcroft, Chair in Healthcare, Oxford Brookes University, and Mr Alan Downey, UK Head of Healthcare, KPMG, gave evidence.
Q581 Chairman: I welcome you to what is the fourth session of evidence in our inquiry into alcohol. Perhaps for the record you would give us your names and current positions.
Mr Downey: My name is Alan Downey and I am the head of public sector at KPMG.
Ms Branch: I am Sonya Branch, senior director at the Office of Fair Trading.
Professor Foxcroft: I am David Foxcroft, a professor at
Q582 Chairman: Ms Branch, to what extent does the OFT take into account the European Commission's judgment that all policies should be evaluated for their impact on public health?
Ms Branch: I believe you are referring to article 152 which we recognise. I
should clarify upfront that that is a reference to taking into account EU
policies and activities. We are an independent government agency that applies
Q583 Chairman: Do you believe that there are good grounds anyway for looking at public health measures?
Ms Branch: It is important to go back to the basics of what we do. We have the
Q584 Chairman: Where in all this should the balance be? Look at the promotion of alcohol in supermarkets at the moment. In one evidence session reference was made to the alcohol aisle. The promotion at the ends of most alcohol aisles is for all to see when they go to supermarkets. Somebody will argue that there is an issue about competition. This is something you can buy legally, but when we look at some of the offers we fall over when we walk into supermarkets at the moment clearly there are potential public health impacts. Who should win this argument: public health or competition and the consumer's right to buy at whatever price is on offer?
Ms Branch: Clearly, there are wider social policy issues. At times one hears that the obstacle is perceived to be competition law rather than the OFT. As to competition law it is important to recognise that there are lots of things that industry could do. For example, each of the grocery retailers could choose to act unilaterally to address those issues. To go back to basics, concerns would arise if you had an agreement amongst competing firms, say a set of grocery retailers, on issues relevant to competition such as pricing, promotions with pricing etc. But there are lots of industry measures and collaborations in relation to product placement which, if they did not have an impact on the competitive dynamics in the market, would be perfectly acceptable. To a certain degree you could have trade association guidance in principle on product placement if it did not have an impact on the way in which they were competing. From our perspective we need to ensure that the commercial independence and uncertainty that need to be there to get efficient, competitive markets are not removed.
Stoate: In your written submission you
suggested that minimum prices would have relatively little impact on demand.
Have you seen the
Ms Branch: There are two points: first, we were asked specifically to look at
the WHO data. We have not done any of our own. The OFT has carried out no
specific research. Second, obviously the OFT in the debate educates itself to
the extent it needs to as to the various reports. We made some points about the
WHO debate. Clearly, our main concern was to flag up wider issues about minimum
pricing. As to the points we have made about minimum pricing, first it is
important to look at how that was achieved. If you have a set of voluntary
agreements amongst competing undertakings, for example grocery retailers, about
minimum pricing you are straight into
Q586 Dr Stoate: That is not my concern. My concern is whether you believe that would have an impact on demand. The mechanics of it are well beyond the remit of this Committee.
Ms Branch: That is not my area of expertise. I have a sufficient overview of the data but it is not an area in which I would claim to have expertise.
Stoate: But you have said in your submission
you believe it would have little impact on demand. All I am asking is from
where you get that assumption and why you believe the
Ms Branch: I do not think the
Q588 Dr Stoate: Has the OFT done any research on the elasticity of demand?
Ms Branch: On alcohol specifically, no.
Q589 Dr Stoate: There is nothing you can let us have in the way of any papers or research you have done?
Ms Branch: No; we have not done anything specific.
Q590 Dr Taylor: The OFT submission is not signed by you but by Chris Jenkins.
Ms Branch: Yes; he is our head of advocacy.
Q591 Dr Taylor: I refer to just one sentence: "Minimum prices can encourage firms who benefit from the restrictions to engage in lobbying government or the relevant regulator to keep the restrictions in place or extend them." Is that an advantage or disadvantage? What evidence do you have for that?
Ms Branch: That was a relatively generic statement. We are talking about the situation where firms benefit from a measure that has been adopted and are more likely to take all steps to ensure it remains in place. If one has in place minimum pricing and retailers get greater margins obviously their commercial interest particularly in the current climate are to ensure that minimum pricing stays in place because it will over time increase their margins. Therefore, they will take steps to ensure that the provisions stay in place. We were not making suggestions specific to this industry. Regulatory capture as economic theory suggests can happen in a number of areas which are regulated or have regulated pricing.
Q592 Dr Taylor: Where do minimum prices exist at the moment?
Ms Branch: Not in this sector. There is no direct correlation that I can think of with minimum pricing, but if you have a regulated sector with price caps and so on theoretically there is always a concern that that may come into play.
Q593 Dr Taylor: So, really it is all theory?
Ms Branch: It was a theoretical, hypothetical comment not specific to this industry.
Q594 Dr Taylor: Do you meet representatives of the drinks industry often? How do you avoid being taken over and captured by them?
Ms Branch: Generally, we have had interaction in looking for guidance as to
Q595 Dr Naysmith: Mr Downey, you made an evaluation in 2008 of the social responsibility standards for the production and sale of alcoholic drinks. Can you tell us a little about how you carried out that study and its main findings?
Mr Downey: There were two elements to our research: first, we consulted
various stakeholders both within and outside the industry; second, we observed
practices and behaviour in premises selling and serving alcohol in eight
Q596 Dr Naysmith: How was the study funded and by whom was it undertaken?
Mr Downey: It was carried out on behalf of the Home Office who went through a competitive procurement process to select a firm to carry out the work on its behalf.
Q597 Dr Naysmith: The Wine and Spirits Trade Association told us that your report found only "very few examples where premises flouted licensing laws". Is that a proper conclusion to draw?
Mr Downey: I do not want to get into semantics too much; it depends on what you mean by "very few". It was certainly a minority of premises, but it was a significant minority.
Q598 Dr Naysmith: What transgressions did the evaluation find and how serious were they in your opinion?
Mr Downey: The two areas on which our research tended naturally to focus where there was statutory force behind the provision of standards were: the serving of alcohol to people who appeared to be under 18 and the serving of alcohol to those who appeared to be intoxicated. Based on the covert observation of our research team, there appeared to be a significant number of breaches in those two types in particular.
Q599 Dr Naysmith: When the pub trade was before us they told us that a lot depended on the training of bar staff. Did you find any evidence of that?
Mr Downey: Interestingly, one of the positive aspects of the research in terms of performance of the industry was that our researchers rated the behaviour of staff very highly in almost all cases. We did not, however, find a high level of awareness of the standards themselves, so clearly there is a lot of good training going on. What we could not establish was that it appeared to be related particularly to this set of standards.
Q600 Dr Naysmith: We have also been told that people in so-called vertical drinking establishments tended to drink a lot more than the recommended guidelines in one session. If people are being served when they are drunk surely it makes a mockery of the laws about serving people when they are inebriated if this is happening regularly in these kinds of establishments.
Mr Downey: It is true that we observed apparent breaches of the law relating to the serving of people who were or appeared to be intoxicated. Clearly, there was an element of judgment involved on the part of our research team because they were observing without revealing that fact. That means judgment would come into play particularly in the case of somebody who perhaps was only marginally intoxicated, if there be such a thing. Clearly, the judgment would be much easier to make if somebody had clearly been drinking to excess over a long period of time.
Q601 Jim Dowd: Mr Downey, does the KPMG report tell us anything about the effectiveness or otherwise of self-regulation?
Mr Downey: I am not sure it tells us anything about whether self-regulation as a principle works or does not work across the board. I should like to confine my comments to the specific question of the standards. For a number of reasons we found that the approach adopted in this case did not appear to have significant effect. It is not that the standards themselves are a bad set of standards. We reached the conclusion that they could do with some updating and clarification in a number of respects. The issue was more to do with the fact that the awareness of the existence and detail of the standards was limited, that there were breaches in a significant number of cases and that enforcement did not appear to be consistent across the country. Therefore, I think it is clear in those respects that this particular approach has not worked. I am not sure I can speculate on whether that means self-regulation can never work in all circumstances.
Q602 Jim Dowd: If the standards were more widely known and an effort was made to convey them to all those in the industry do you believe it would have a beneficial effect?
Mr Downey: I believe it would.
Q603 Jim Dowd: I do not wish you to say anything that would compromise you, but do you believe the industry takes the social responsibility standards seriously? You can plead the fifth if you wish.
Mr Downey: One matter we observe in the report is that this is a very diverse industry. We are talking about a very large numbers of premises and establishments of very different kinds ranging from small family-owned businesses to establishments that are part of big chains. I would not go as far as to say that the industry is not taking it seriously. I think it is quite difficult in this case even to talk in terms of the industry as if it were a monolith. We came across plenty of examples of good practice in terms of advertising, checking age, serving free water on request and so on. That suggests there are certainly many individuals and companies in the industry that take these issues very seriously, but it is a diverse and widespread industry and I am not sure I can really comment on it as a whole.
Q604 Jim Dowd: I suppose that in many senses it mirrors the retail industry. There are very big players at one end and very small ones at the other. Did you find it was easier for the larger organisations for structural reasons to comply with the code than smaller ones?
Mr Downey: I cannot answer that question because in conducting our research we did not ask researchers to make a record of the ownership nature of the establishments they entered, so we have names but no addresses. We do not know whether they belonged to a chain or were independent establishments.
Q605 Jim Dowd: Insofar as you are aware how did the Home Office respond to your report? Have you seen any changes, initiatives or action flow from it?
Mr Downey: I cannot really answer that question. We were engaged to conduct a piece of independent research which we did. We handed it over and we have not subsequently been engaged by the Home Office to do any further research or been asked to follow what policy may or may not have developed in the mean time.
Q606 Jim Dowd: You have no proprietorial sense of your work; you just let it go out into the world to find its own way and do not care what happens to it?
Mr Downey: To take another example, we do a great deal of work as a firm in the area of public sector performance and productivity and take a huge interest in that subject and publish views and articles and talk to the media about it. It is not only appropriate but important we should do so because we have a point of view that we believe is valid. This was more of a one-off study. We have not been commissioned before or since to do any work in the area of alcohol use and abuse, so it is less appropriate that we have a point of view and perhaps less surprising that we do not have a strong proprietorial view on the issue.
Q607 Dr Naysmith: Professor Foxcroft, we understand that you have reviewed the evidence on alcohol advertising and young people. Can you tell us a little bit about your findings and perhaps the context in which you did this work and why you undertook it?
Professor Foxcroft: Perhaps I may speak of the work of the science group of the European
Alcohol and Health Forum that commissioned some work on the relationship
between alcohol marketing and the uptake of drinking behaviour in young people.
This particular report drew together two systematic reviews that have been
produced very recently in this area. One of these reviews was led by one of my
colleagues, Dr Lesley Smith of
Q608 Dr Naysmith: How consistent were these results with other similar studies?
Professor Foxcroft: There have been a number of other reviews in this area which have taken a much broader perspective and incorporated different methodologies. I believe these results are pretty consistent. A fairly consistent message comes across from not only the very high quality systematic reviews drawn upon by the European report but also methodologies used in other reviews.
Q609 Dr Naysmith: Sometimes we hear that results are inconsistent in this area, but is it right you suggest that these are reviews on which we can rely as being the best evidence we can get?
Professor Foxcroft: That is my view.
Q610 Dr Naysmith: Why do you believe some of other studies are brought in to muddy the waters?
Professor Foxcroft: Whenever you look across at a number of different research studies you will find some that do not clearly demonstrate an effect in a particular direction. There are some studies that show that, but the important point here is that they are very much in the minority. When you look across the majority of studies with a range of different methodologies you see a clear and consistent picture of an effect and association between exposure to marketing and the uptake of drinking behaviour in young people.
Q611 Dr Naysmith: Is there such a thing as the precautionary principle in public health? If so, how does it work in public health?
Professor Foxcroft: The precautionary principle has a potential for helping public health in its decision-making. Decision-making for public health can be challenging if there is little or no evidence on a specific issue, or if there is conflicting evidence. The precautionary principle provides a basis for decision-making when faced with scientific uncertainty. For the sake of argument, if there is still some uncertainty about the health risks to children and young adolescents from exposure to alcohol marketing the precautionary principle suggests that those health risks should be assumed to be true and proportionate action should follow. That is the precautionary approach. The principle can also be extended to deal with scientific uncertainty on the effectiveness of particular public health interventions or actions. For example, it is a worry that so many different types of alcohol education and prevention programmes proliferate in schools and among young people when there is considerable scientific uncertainty about the effectiveness of many of these approaches. With an extended precautionary principle only those interventions for which there is some pretty good provisional or preliminary evidence of effectiveness would be supported by the principle and only if there is an ongoing programme of good quality research and evaluation to look at the effectiveness of those particular prevention programmes, for example in a UK context. Ultimately, if after a period of time we find out that these prevention efforts and programmes in schools are ineffective we can divert resources to somewhere else that is a little more useful. I suspect that aspects of the precautionary principle are used implicitly by many public health workers in public health settings; otherwise, why are so many public health interventions implemented that are based on insufficient scientific evidence? That is a worry. I suggest that to bring the principle out into the open so it is used in a transparent, explicit way is a positive step.
Q612 Chairman: When you talked about marketing in these reviews did that include sponsorship?
Professor Foxcroft: The studies that we included in the reviews covered a range of different marketing exposure from exposure to alcohol ads on television to exposure to alcohol trails in various media, including television, music videos and films to exposure to alcohol messaging through sponsorship. Some studies looked at the recollection of alcohol messages and information and a couple of them looked at ownership of alcohol branded merchandise, so there was a mix of different types of alcohol messaging included in the systematic reviews.
Q613 Chairman: In view of the findings I assume you believe that the current regulation of the advertising of alcohol does not afford the protection of young people that it should do. Do you agree with that analysis?
Professor Foxcroft: The studies included in this work looked at the association between
exposure to marketing and drinking behaviour in young people in a number of
different countries, mostly the
Q614 Chairman: The World Health Organization published a report entitled Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity which states that public education is one of the least effective policy responses to the problems of alcohol. Do you agree with that analysis?
Professor Foxcroft: There is now pretty good evidence that certain types of alcohol education which give information about risks associated with alcohol and raise awareness of those risks are ineffective. I have talked mostly about education of young people because that is the area about which I know most. Evaluations have shown a consistent picture. A number of different studies have shown that traditional types of alcohol education in schools, just telling people about the risks associated with alcohol and raising awareness of those risks, are ineffective. I believe that that is the message put across by the WHO report. Having said that, there is a growing body of evidence that relates to different types of prevention programmes, not necessarily education but prevention programmes that look at the effectiveness of early intervention with young people that take a social developmental approach and have been shown in some studies to have an impact in reducing not only alcohol-related harm but other sorts of harms to young people, including drug dependence and drug harms, mental health issues, suicides, suicidal behaviour, aggressive and disruptive behaviour in schools, later violence and crime and also the use of health services, which was an interesting finding in some of the studies. A good source of information on this particular type of prevention programming is a recent report from the US National Academies of Science which has reviewed the effectiveness of prevention programmes for young people and highlighted a number of early intervention-type programmes that may be effective in this country, though more research would be needed. One of the benefits of such an intervention is that the impact covers a number of different behaviours. I believe it was Keynes who said that early intervention was a massive multiplier.
Q615 Chairman: The question of intervention in early years was a matter we looked at in our inquiry into health inequalities a few months ago. Is there anything that you believe can be done that is specific to alcohol misuse and the protection of young people? Given your knowledge and research do you have any view on that? How do we start to get there?
Professor Foxcroft: There are a number of strands that possibly are useful in a policy approach to reducing the harms to young people associated with alcohol. One of those approaches is to look at availability. We know that young people are most likely to have their first experiences of alcohol in a family setting usually from parents, so some work in looking at how parents introduce alcohol and whether they should be introducing it and at what age would be appropriate. That is a policy option that could be useful especially given we know that young people drink earlier and heavier which is a problem. The second aspect would be to look at the whole of the marketing mix: product placement, price and promotions. I know that you have already been considering options in that respect. Third, early intervention is something that offers a potential impact across a range of different behaviours which are relevant to health. As to information campaigns and awareness raising that is something that might be considered although there is a problem in terms of scale. If you are to look at implementing information campaigns and awareness raising there needs to be an increase in resource by an order of magnitude. You talked earlier about the funds made available to Drinkaware compared with the funds used by the alcohol industry to promote alcohol products. Clearly, there is a huge discrepancy there. We know that alcohol marketing influences in a dose-response manner and it is probably the same with counter marketing or advertising or marketing around risks. Dose response and volume are important. Therefore, we need to increase the level of resource in that regard; otherwise, I have concerns about whether it is an effective approach. I also suggest that a clear and explicit decision-making framework to support policy and action would be useful - maybe the precautionary principle would be an appropriate way forward - and there should be more R&D so we do not end up talking about lack of evidence on the same issues in five years' time.
Q616 Chairman: How big would the volume of advertising of alcohol be on a scale of one to 10, one being not very important and 10 being very important in view of what you have reflected on in these studies?
Professor Foxcroft: I do not understand the question.
Q617 Chairman: The effect of the volume of advertising is disputed. We have had evidence that it is the volume of advertising that creates take-up or, to put it simply, that advertising works. How significant would that be on a scale of nought to 10, nought being not very important and 10 being very important? Basically, the article in The Lancet last week said that there should be a reduction in the volume of advertising of alcohol. What would you say to that?
Professor Foxcroft: Clearly, there is a dose-response relationship demonstrated in the systematic reviews picked up by the science report for the European Alcohol and Health Forum. I suggest that that needs to be considered. I hesitate to say where on the scale it should be placed, but I certainly believe it is an important aspect to consider when looking at this.
Q618 Chairman: We all understand that there is no silver bullet here in terms of changing alcohol habits. I am just interested in volume. In any event, you believe that it is important as are many other things?
Professor Foxcroft: Yes.
Chairman: I thank all three witnesses very much.