Alcohol ad regulations may be toughened up

The advertising industry's self-regulatory system is not working for alcohol ads, Melanie Johnson, the minister for public health, warned this week.

Her criticism raised the prospect that the Government will threaten statutory regulation if the industry refuses to toughen up its code to stop drinks producers targeting young people.

Johnson told a Commons debate on alcohol marketing that some recent ads "do not appear to be in keeping with the spirit of the codes". She added: "There is a growing concern that the self-regulatory elements of our framework are not working as well as they could or should."

The minister said the issue would form part of a long-awaited government blueprint for tackling alcohol abuse, to be unveiled shortly. "Ensuring that we can have confidence in our arrangements for alcohol advertising is crucial, and proposals in this area will certainly form part of the strategy," she said.

Johnson confirmed that the Government was considering a levy on alcohol ads and a campaign to promote sensible drinking, which is likely to target binge drinkers.

She was replying to a debate staged by the Labour MP Ross Cranston, a former Solicitor General who chairs an all-party group on alcohol abuse.

He urged the Government to use the best brains in the ad industry to promote safe drinking.

Cranston, who also called for health warnings on alcohol products, said: "We are not far off the time when the Government should consider using the creative skills in the advertising world to good effect."

He added: "There is the worrying trend in advertising targeting younger people, especially younger women, and associating alcohol with sexual and social success.

"That type of marketing gives the lie to the industry's claim that marketing is about brand switching. If that were the case, it would have concentrated on the heavy-drinking young male. Advertising is also designed to recruit new consumers and increase consumption."