Australia: Rising Complaints About Alcohol Ads During COVID-19

Australia’s Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC) has seen rising complaints about alcohol ads during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alcohol advertising is self-regulated by the industry in Australia. As Movendi International has previously reported, this self-regulation system has failed over and over again concerning the protection of children and youth from exposure to alcohol promotions.

Previously, Movendi International reported results from a study by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) and the Cancer Council WA, which exposed the Big Alcohol marketing onslaught in Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study found that alcohol promotions during the COVID-19 crisis were particularly concerning as they promoted known risk factors for alcohol harm: buying more alcohol, consuming alcohol to cope, using alcohol daily, consuming alcohol at home and using alcohol alone.

Movendi International also reported, how Big Alcohol was using the pandemic to specifically target women.

It seems even the self-regulatory body ABAC is receiving a growing number of complaints regarding alcohol ads which reference COVID-19 during the pandemic.

Of the 60 complaints made in the quarter – double the previous period – the ABAC determined 26 within the time frame, upholding 13 and dismissing another 13. More than half of these determinations related to marketing that referenced the COVID-19 pandemic. Of those, 8 were found to be in breach of the code.

The ABAC has said that the increase in complaints is due to many businesses turning to online marketing and delivery to safeguard profits.

ABAC has said that in the current crisis marketing messages should not suggest that alcohol is an aid to relaxation, imply that it could be a “prop” in coping with the stress and challenges of the pandemic, or suggest that alcohol could significantly change mood or environment.

However, ABAC chair Harry Jenkins AO has also said that it is “acceptable” to reference the pandemic in marketing, likening the current pandemic to any other “significant background event”. This statement itself depicts why alcohol industry self-regulation of alcohol advertizing and promotions is flawed. The current pandemic has already caused over half a million deaths worldwide. It is definitely not like any other significant background event. Specially, in terms of alcohol marketing as alcohol is a risk factor for COVID-19 and its complications due to alcohol weakening the immune system and alcohol being a risk factor to NCDs which in turn are increasing risk of COVID-19 death.

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