Alcohol adverting is not government regulated in Australia. It is self-regulated by the alcohol industry. For years this self-regulation has been failing and putting people, specifically kids, in harm’s way by exposing them to alcohol promotions.
The current alcohol advertising self-regulation system has no restrictions on alcohol companies engaging with people on social media. This has led to a situation where Big Alcohol is heavily exploiting social media to push the harmful alcohol norm on people by promoting more alcohol consumption.
First evidence shows, the COVID-19 pandemic and the stress and anxiety resulting from it have resulted in changes to alcohol use patterns and the alcohol norm in Australia. A poll done by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) from April 3 to 5, 2020 found, 20% of households reported buying more alcohol than usual since COVID-19. On top of that alcohol use at home has started to become normalized as on-trade alcohol sale is still low for the most part.
Big Alcohol has been cashing in on these changes and exploiting digital media and on-demand delivery to push as much alcohol as possible on people.
One survey by FARE found a social media user is shown one alcohol advertisement roughly every 35 seconds on Facebook and Instagram, during a normal Friday night.
Big Alcohol sets sights on parents
The latest target of Big Alcohol in Australia are parents. With the pandemic and movement restrictions many parents had to switch to homeschooling their children while managing household chores as well as working from home. Some parents also had to care for their older parents. These compounding stressors in additions to the threat of infection greatly increase psychological strain, anxiety and mental health challenges for parents.
University of Queensland researchers revealed how alcohol advertisers are using social media to prey on parents and encourage alcohol use as a way to cope with the added stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Janni Leung from the University of Queensland’s School of Psychology and National Center for Youth Substance Use Research called for urgent alcohol policy action to better protect parents from being exposed to heavy alcohol advertising on social media.
It’s tough to push parents to reflect on the way their children might perceive their drinking habits while the industry has been capitalizing on the current crisis,” said Dr. Leung, as per Medical Xpress.
Instead, we need to provide support and protect parents through these challenging times.”Dr. Janni Leung, University of Queensland School of Psychology and National Center for Youth Substance Use Research
Dr. Leung also shared how parents, especially mothers, have been sharing an influx of memes and posts normalizing alcohol use as a coping mechanism during the pandemic.
One example is a post saying “maybe it takes a village to raise a child, but I swear it’s gonna take a vineyard to homeschool one”.
These posts risk normalizing the use of alcohol as a coping strategy and promoting the false belief that alcohol is good for mental health,” said Dr. Leung.
Common advertising themes of the alcohol industry such as “easy access to alcohol without leaving home,” “buy more,” “use alcohol during COVID-19,” and “use alcohol to cope” show that Big Alcohol is aware of how to market their harmful products to parents.
Big Alcohol undermines WHO best practice guidance
The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended limiting alcohol availability during COVID-19 and lockdown measures. The WHO has also specifically issued guidelines to help protect people and communities, advising not to use alcohol to cope with the pandemic stresses and releasing psycho-social advice on healthy ways to cope.
This is because alcohol can increase chances of infection, decrease immunity, increase the burden on healthcare systems and emergency services as well as jeopardize physical distancing measures.
Survey data evaluation from the United States in July 2020 shows that parents who are stressed by having to help their children with distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic consume seven more alcohol drinks per month compared with parents who do not report feeling stressed by distance learning. These stressed parents are also twice as likely to report binge alcohol use at least once over the prior month compared to parents who are not stressed, according to the survey – as previously reported by Movendi International.
These findings show that the alcohol industry’s marketing strategy – to establish, normalize and promote alcohol as coping tool – during the current public health crisis is seriously harmful, as they are attempting to exploit vulnerable people and communities.
Leung, J., Connor, J., Hides, L. and Hall, W.D. (2020), Alcohol advertisers may be using social media to encourage parents to drink during COVID‐19. Med. J. Aust., 213: 188-188.e1. doi:10.5694/mja2.50707
For further reading from the Science Digest
Association of Constellations of Parental Risk With Children’s Subsequent Anxiety and Depression
Kids may be more likely to develop depression and anxiety when their parents are regular alcohol users, even when neither parent consumes enough to be considered an alcoholic…