Editorial: Don't let binge-drinking concern ruin regulation

As round-the-clock drinking sparks fears of streets being swamped with drunken louts, so attention inevitably turns to advertising's perceived role in fuelling this hellish prospect. Equally inevitably come the demands for alcohol promotions to be put under even more Draconian restrictions.

The latest is from Alcohol Concern, which wants the enforcement of the rules on drinks ads to be policed by an independent body led by non-industry figures.

Just as the calls for a TV ban on snack-food advertising to children is a seductive idea that doesn't stand up to close scrutiny, so the same is true of this latest suggestion - for a start, it is hard to see how it would lead to more responsible advertising. The rules already prevent alcohol ads being linked to sexual success or yobbish behaviour, and these regulations are tightly enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority and the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre. Indeed, some feel these bodies can be over-zealous in their interpretation of the rules. Moreover, with drinks promotion being such an emotive public and political issue, heavy pressure will remain on the watchdogs to keep up their tough stance.

The other key question is how a clampdown on branded drinks ads will curb binge-drinking and the antisocial behaviour that accompanies it. Nothing will change while bars allow teenagers and twentysomethings to get drunk with "happy hour" cheap drinks and two-for-one offers. Nor will the situation improve while huge youth pubs encourage young people to drink excessively with their peers. Sadly, the days when different generations drank together and young people learned to drink responsibly are over.

Not only is Alcohol Concern being naive but its suggestion would be a nightmare to administer. What next? Hand control of all financial advertising to other scrutineers because credit cards lead to debt for a reckless few? Or what about a body to enforce the rules on car advertising as a means of reducing death on the roads?

The consolidation of advertising regulation in the UK has been a long-awaited and welcome development. Now is not the time to fragment it again.

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