LEADING Scots health experts have called to an end to the lucrative sports marketing of alcohol as new research found nearly all industry ads appearing in Scottish rugby matches came without a 'drink responsibly' warning.

The Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), a partnership of the Medical Royal Colleges in Scotland and the Faculty of Public Health, based at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh has called for the ban raising concerns that as many as 30m children across the six nations taking part - covering Great Britain, France, Ireland and Italy - could see and be influenced by the alcohol advertising.

It comes as it has emerged that a long-promised Scottish Government consultation on alcohol sponsorship is not expected until next year.

There are currently no legislative restrictions on alcohol sports sponsorship in the UK and alcohol marketing is self-regulated by the alcohol industry.

University of Stirling researchers found 961 references in a Scotland v England match and 754 in an Ireland vs. Wales match during the 2020 Six Nations tournament. This amounts to a reference to alcohol appearing every 12 and 15 seconds respectively.

Guinness is the main sponsor and the official beer of the Six Nations rugby. It is also an official partner of Scottish Rugby along with Tennent's Lager and Johnnie Walker whisky.

The Guinness sponsorship deal was reportedly worth £6m for the 2019 tournament, increasing to around double that figure in the final year of their deal in 2024.

A UK self-regulation code states that “drinks companies must ensure there is a recognisable commitment to promoting responsible drinking”.

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But the new analysis found only 3.5% of references to the alcohol sponsor were accompanied by such a message in the Ireland vs. Scotland game and only 0.4% in the Scotland vs. England game.

The SHAAP says that this raised "serious questions about how effective self-regulatory codes are".

The study found that in four match broadcasts studied in February, 2020 alcohol references were mostly observed during the match and in high-profile locations, including large static logos in the middle of the pitch and logos on the match equipment. In Scotland and Ireland almost all references contained "explicit branding", the researchers said.

Nearly 4,000 people die as a result of alcohol each year in Scotland, with alcohol death rates last year judged to be twice what they were 30 years ago and almost double those of our English neighbours.

The industry’s code of practice states that “drinks companies must use their reasonable endeavours... to ensure that at least 75% [of the audience] are aged over 18” in practice.

But the SHAAP is concerned that this means that, during a tournament like the Six Nations, which has an audience of 125 million, it is permitted for over 30 million children to see and be influenced by alcohol ads.

Ministers have faced pressure to take action for several years amid claims that alcohol branding in sport sends the wrong message to fans and is partly to blame for alcohol-related deaths.

A consultation on alcohol sponsorship pledged by Joe FitzPatrick, the former sports minister, in March last year did not happen.

The Scottish Government has indicated that a consultation onf "potential alcohol advertising restrictions" to protect children and young people will take place during 2022.

Elinor Jayne, SHAAP director said: "Restricting marketing of alcohol – and a ban on sports sponsorship – would be a major step towards a fairer, healthier Scotland and I urge the Scottish Government to take this forward in plans for reforms of alcohol marketing in Scotland.

“As a society we are used to alcohol companies sponsoring sports, yet it is totally incongruous to have this intrinsically health harming product associated with a healthy activity.

"The alcohol industry’s involvement in sports sponsorship has been shown to increase the chances of today’s children being harmed by alcohol in the future, which means this sponsorship is working as intended: the alcohol industry needs to recruit future consumers. Taking into consideration the alcohol industry’s laissez faire approach to self-regulation, this research should serve as a reminder to the Scottish Government of just how much needs to be done to break the link between alcohol and sports, starting with a ban on sponsorship”.

In November this year in the Republic of Ireland a ban on alcohol advertising at sporting events or events aimed at children, and events involving driving or racing motor vehicles will come into force.

A watershed will be introduced, banning ads on TV and radio in daytime hours - between 3am and 9pm on TV.

The University of Stirling study by Dr Richard Purves and Dr Nathan Critchlow of the Institute for Social Marketing and Health was carried out ahead of Ireland introducing its restrictions and ahead of the potential Scottish Government consultation.

Public health minister Maree Todd said: “We know that children and young people in Scotland see alcohol advertising and promotion in a variety of ways – on social media, when attending sporting events or concerts as well as on billboards, buses and at train stations.

“This has the potential to further embed alcohol into our culture. There is a direct causal link between exposure to alcohol marketing and children and young people starting to drink alcohol - or drinking more alcohol if they have already started to drink.

“That is why our Alcohol Framework contains an action to consult on devolved restrictions on alcohol marketing to protect vulnerable groups including children and young people and those in recovery.

“We will consult on potential alcohol marketing restrictions in 2022 and put young people’s voices at the centre of our proposals. We are in the early stages of considering potential proposals.”