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Promoting positive change: young people give their views on the effects of alcohol marketing in Scotland

From phasing out alcohol advertising at sporting events, to reducing how often alcohol is promoted on TV and online, David Mackay, Policy Manager at Children in Scotland, discusses children and young people's approach to improving Scotland’s relationship with alcohol.

The public consultation on restricting alcohol advertising and promotion launched by the Scottish Government in November 2022 was broad in scope, seeking to explore various options for restricting the marketing and promotion of alcohol in Scotland.

The consultation cited evidence that highlighted links between alcohol marketing and children and young people’s drinking behaviours. It also underlined the negative impact of alcohol marketing for adults in recovery.

Recognising that children and young people’s voices were an important part of this discussion, the Scottish Government commissioned Children in Scotland to support children and young people to engage with the consultation. Today, we are delighted to be publishing our report on this engagement activity.

The work we undertook was not without its challenges. When we began, we received some negative comments questioning why we were talking to children and young people about this topic. Children in Scotland’s answer was simple – why wouldn’t we talk to them?

Although alcohol marketing and attitudes towards alcohol are often perceived as adult topics, our engagement work - and previous projects undertaken by the Children’s Parliament and Scottish Youth Parliament - has shown how omnipresent alcohol and alcohol marketing is in our society. The children and young people we spoke to identified the different places they had seen alcohol advertisements or promotions: from local shops and supermarkets to public posters and billboards; from television sponsorship to sports events to online posts. Children and young people are seeing alcohol adverts in their homes, on their way to school and during their leisure activities like going to the cinema. It’s their right to share their views about this important topic.

We engaged with 113 children and young people from all over Scotland during the course of our work.Some took part in a five-week focus group and other schools and community groups completed activities from our engagement pack.

Some clear and interesting findings emerged from our work. In general, the young people were keen to see tighter restrictions on alcohol marketing and promotion in Scotland. However, the children and young people we spoke to also had concerns about the economic impact of restrictions for both small- and large-scale businesses.

Young people want to see further restrictions introduced in key areas. They support the phasing out of alcohol sponsorship from sports teams and sporting events, and the introduction of restrictions in local shops and supermarkets to make alcohol less visible to young people, and also want to see a reduction in the volume of online and television alcohol advertising that young people see.

Participants also suggested “toning down” the content of alcohol advertisements, as has happened in Estonia,to make them less appealing to children and young people. Our focus group said that alcohol marketing was often slick, glamorous and exciting, and they felt that advertisements were selling a lifestyle that was appealing to children and young people. We also discussed the big impact of celebrity endorsements, with popular actors like Ryan Renolds and The Rock owning alcohol brands or promoting alcohol products.

Many young people also highlighted that newer drinks have packaging and flavours that attract the attention of children and young people. This is something that Children in Scotland’s young people’s advisory group, Changing Our World, has also highlighted in relation to vaping products.

“The problem is they do all these kids’ flavours, like Red Kola. There are huge adverts and packaging aimed at weans”
(young project participant)

Throughout our work, it became clear that imposing tighter restrictions on alcohol marketing and promotion is only part of the picture. Some young people felt that additional restrictions wouldn’t make a difference, stating that children and young people’s choices are more influenced by the drinking attitudes of friends and family members than by advertising. Other young people said that drinking alcohol to excess was part of the culture in Scotland, and they hoped that changing restrictions might help to stop this being seen as normal.

Over recent years, some positive steps have been introduced to tackle the problematic relationship Scotland has with alcohol, including the introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing. Research by Public Health Scotland published in June this year has shown the positive impact this has had in reducing alcohol-related deaths and hospital admissions.

The young people involved in this project said they hoped introducing new restrictions on alcohol marketing would lead to “healthier and happier people”. Elena Whitham MSP, the Minister for Drugs and Alcohol Policy has written to the group to thank them for sharing their experiences and ideas and has assured them their views will be fully considered in the development of this important area of public health policy. We look forward to hearing from the Scottish Government about the next steps.

David Mackay is a Policy, Projects & Participation Manager at Children in Scotland

About the author

David Mackay is a Policy, Projects & Participation Manager at Children in Scotland

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Alcohol Marketing in Scotland – final report

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