WHO calls for greater regulation of cross-border alcohol marketing

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The study shows how the digital revolution in marketing and promotion is being used to promote the merits of alcohol across national borders and, in many cases, regardless of social, economic or cultural environment.

According to the WHO, alcohol consumption is linked to a range of health problems, ranging from alcohol dependence and other mental and behavioral disorders to major non-communicable diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver, certain cancers and cardiovascular diseases, as well as injuries and deaths resulting from violence and road accidents.

Saving young lives

Worldwide, some three million people die each year from the harmful use of alcohol – one every 10 seconds – representing about 5% of all deaths.

Young people account for a disproportionate number of these alcohol-related deaths, as 13.5% of all deaths among people aged 20-39 are alcohol-related.

“Alcohol robs young people, their families and society of their life and potential,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. “Yet, despite the obvious health risks, controls on the marketing of alcohol are much weaker than for other psychoactive products. Better, well-enforced and more consistent regulation of alcohol marketing would both save and improve the lives of young people around the world.”

The rise of digital advertising

The report highlights how recent changes in alcohol marketing have created new opportunities to reach audiences.

The collection and analysis of data on user habits and preferences by internet service providers has enabled alcohol marketers to target messages to specific groups across borders. national.

The study found that targeted advertising on social media is particularly effective, and is reinforced by influencers and message sharing.

A data source cited in the report calculated that more than 70% of media spend by top US-based alcohol marketers in 2019 was made through promotions, product placements and advertising. online social media advertisements.

“The growing importance of digital media means that alcohol marketing has become increasingly cross-border,” said Dag Rekve, of the WHO’s Alcohol, Drugs and Addictive Behaviors Unit. “This makes it more difficult for countries that regulate alcohol marketing to control it effectively in their territory. Greater collaboration between countries in this area is needed.”

Sponsorship of sports events

Liquor makers also sponsor major sporting events globally, regionally and nationally, which the report says can also significantly increase brand awareness among new audiences.

They also partner with sports leagues and clubs to reach viewers and potential consumers in different parts of the world.

Other opportunities include sponsorship of competitive gaming events or product placement in films and series airing on international subscription channels.

Alcohol consumption as a means of emancipation

The report titled Rreduce alcohol harm by regulating cross-border alcohol marketing, advertising and promotion activitiesalso examines how specific audiences are targeted, with particular attention to children and adolescents, women and heavy drinkers.

According to the WHO, studies have shown that starting to drink alcohol at a young age is a predictor of hazardous drinking in early adulthood and beyond. Marketers also particularly target regions of the world with young and growing populations, such as Africa and Latin America.

And while men consume three-quarters of the alcohol consumed globally, the lower rate among women also presents an opportunity to grow. Alcohol marketers often present women’s drinking as a symbol of emancipation and equality, the report says.

In addition, studies on domestic violence indicate that violence against women is more frequent when both they and their partner have been drinking, which risks reducing their power within the couple, rather than increasing it.

Heavy and addicted drinkers are another target of marketing strategies. “People who are dependent on alcohol often report a stronger urge to drink alcohol when confronted with alcohol-related messages, but they rarely have an effective way to avoid it. exposure to advertising or promotional content,” the WHO says.

Better integration into public health strategies and better collaboration

The report recommends that comprehensive restrictions or bans on the marketing of alcohol, including its cross-border aspects, be integrated into public health strategies. It also calls for greater collaboration between countries.

The WHO said that while many governments have implemented some form of restrictions on alcohol marketing, these tend to be relatively weak.

A 2018 study by the UN agency found that while most countries have some form of regulation for alcohol marketing in traditional media, nearly half have no regulation at all. which applies to the Internet and social media.

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