Out-Law News 2 min. read

Scottish Government proposes alcohol advertising ban

The Scottish Government has put forward proposals for a widespread ban on alcohol advertising.

According to a new consultation, Scottish ministers plan to prohibit advertising of alcohol on television, outdoor billboards, through sports and events sponsorship as well as through branded merchandise and online. The consultation, which forms part of the Scottish government’s approach to addressing alcohol-related harm, describes the issue as “one of the most pressing public health challenges that we face in Scotland”.

Pointing to the harmful effect of alcohol advertising generally, including increasing the appeal and attractiveness of consumption among children and young people in particular, the Scottish government said that restricting individual channels has a limited overall impact and that any restrictions should therefore be as comprehensive as possible.

Ministers said that restricting alcohol marketing “will also reduce the potential triggering effect” that it can have on heavy drinkers and those in recovery or treatment. “Restricting alcohol marketing will also support our ambition to change our troubled relationship with alcohol,” they added.

The restrictions being considered include a prohibition on alcohol sports and event sponsorship. The document defines such sponsorship by reference to a list of prohibited marketing activities, such as branded clothing on players; pitch side, tunnel and interview board advertising and a ban on players or staff featuring in alcohol adverts in print or online.

The consultation also suggests a ban on marketing in outdoor and public spaces, including on public transport, billboards, posters and signs. Some restrictions already exist in these areas, but the consultation states that these tend to focus on places specific to children and young people, like schools, while “ignoring the reality that children and young people travel around their communities for a variety of reasons.”

It also noted that Ireland has recently banned alcohol advertising in or on public transport, at public transport stops or stations. The restriction also applies to parks or open spaces owned by local authorities, as well as spaces within 200 metres of a school, a creche or local authority playground. The consultation asks respondents to consider the extent of such a ban in Scotland and the types of advertising media that it should include.

Wider proposals would see further restrictions on the visibility of alcohol in shops and supermarkets by restricting window display; limiting the use of mixed alcohol and non-alcohol aisles and banning aisle-end displays of alcohol. Views are also sought on whether alcohol should in fact be kept totally out of sight behind till areas, similar to tobacco products. The consultation also proposes redefining the alcohol display area by, for example, structural separation using physical barriers. 

At the same time, the consultation suggests banning the sale of alcohol-branded merchandise, including of no and low alcohol products, along with a ban on print and digital, television, cinema and radio advertising – either completely or after a watershed. Responses are sought on whether alcohol marketing should be restricted to specified factual elements.

The Scottish government said it recognised the need for effective monitoring and enforcement of any restrictions and suggested that this could be carried out by either existing regulatory bodies or a new body. In both cases, it said resourcing issue will have to be considered, along with clear guidance on enforcement policy and avoidance of duplication.

Audrey Ferrie of Pinsent Masons said: “Many of these proposals will impact significantly on the licensed trade, for example by requiring them to change the layout of their premises. Since there are already strict rules around advertising, perhaps more enforcement of existing legislation is the answer?”

The consultation closes on 9 March 2023.

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