AN expert has called for a ban on alcohol advertising in the winter months because the dark and cold may make Scots more likely to drink too much.

Dr Peter McCann, a specialist in drug and alcohol rehabilitation, was one of the contributors to a new report by researchers in Pittsburgh, in the US.

Their research, based on data from 193 countries, showed people living in cold climates with less sunlight are more likely to drink heavily than those in milder regions.

As well as a link between average temperature and hours of sunlight; and alcohol consumption, they also found evidence that climate contributed to a higher incidence of binge drinking and liver disease.

Senior author Ramon Bataller, associate director of the Pittsburgh Liver Research Centre, said: "This is the first study that systematically demonstrates that worldwide and in America, in colder areas and areas with less sun, you have more drinking and more alcoholic cirrhosis."

Dr McCann, who is medical advisor to the Castle Craig Hospital, a residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinic in the Scottish Borders, said: "We now have new evidence that the weather, and in particular the temperature and amount of sunlight that we are exposed to, has a strong influence on how much alcohol we consume.

"Furthermore this weather-related alcohol consumption is directly linked to our chances of developing the most dangerous form of liver disease - cirrhosis - which can ultimately end in liver failure and death."

He said: "Advertising laws should be addressed with restrictions during winter months strongly considered."

He said the "devastating" combination of low sunlight and cheap alcohol prices on consumption and health also reinforced the need for strict laws on alcohol pricing.

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The new study notes that alcohol is a vasodilator, relaxing blood vessels and increasing the flow of warm blood to the skin. Drinking also is linked to depression, which tends to be more prevalent when sunlight is scarce.

It was published online in Hepatology, used data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Meteorological Organisation.

Evidence of the climate link comes as the WHO presents new data on alcohol consumption in Europe at a summit in Edinburgh on Monday.

But retailers and drink producers are likely to be resistant to any suggestion of ban in the winter months, covering the lucrative Christmas and New Year periods.

Paul Waterson of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said it was opposed to blanket advertising bans on the grounds that most producers say their advertising is aimed at encouraging existing customers to switch brands. However the SLTA supported minimum pricing and backs tougher restrictions on price-based alcohol promotions.

"We have always said that to go along with minimum pricing advertising based around price should be banned. But we wouldn't support a blanket ban," he said.

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Julie Breslin, head of the Drink Wise Age Well programme, which aims to reduce problematic drinking among the over 50s, said key triggers for risky drinking were more likely during the winter months. However it might be more productive to target these social problems rather than advertising, she said.

"Key triggers for harmful drinking include depression and isolation, which are more likely during winter months. Along with statutory regulation of alcohol marketing it is important to understand the wider societal and cultural factors that cause this.

"We support any health policy that reduces alcohol harm, including minimum pricing, health risk labelling on alcohol products and advertising regulation but we also need to have a better understanding of what drives more binge drinking in colder climate countries and the associate harms," she added.

The Scottish Government is expected to publish a new alcohol framework this week, including plans for a 'new approach' to alcohol education for you people.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland said it should take a year-round approach.

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“Sadly there’s not much we can do about Scottish weather or our short winter days, but on the bright side there’s clear action we can take to address the high levels of alcohol we drink all year round," she said.

"Research shows that increasing the price, reducing how available it is to buy and restricting alcohol marketing are all cost-effective ways to reduce how much we drink. We hope the Scottish Government’s new strategy will build on the positive steps it has already taken on minimum unit price and tackle the widespread availability of alcohol and the aggressive way in which it is marketed to encourage us all to drink more and more.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We welcome the recognition from this report of the role of pricing controls in addressing the harmful effects of alcohol on society, as demonstrated by Scotland’s implementation of minimum unit pricing.

“We are all too aware of the impact of alcohol advertising and believe this could and should be reduced. Much of the regime governing advertising is reserved to Westminster and we have pressed the UK Government to do more.

“Our alcohol framework, which will published shortly, will have a strong focus on preventing alcohol-related harm.”