The Director of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) has called upon the Scottish Government to ban alcohol sponsorship and advertising in sport, arguing there is a duty to protect vulnerable groups from exposure to a ‘health-harming product’.

Elinor Jayne, who leads SHAAP – an organisation set up in 2006 by the Medical Royal Colleges in Scotland to combat the escalation in alcohol-related health damage in Scotland – says it is unfair on vulnerable groups such as recovering alcoholics and young people to be exposed to alcohol advertising when they are watching or attending sports such as football.

Furthermore, she believes that the prevalence of such marketing contributes to an increase in consumption across the general population, running contrary to the Scottish Government’s stated aim of reducing alcohol intake in Scotland.

Jayne recognises that such a move would face strong resistance from both the drinks industry and from sporting organisations themselves, who benefit from the revenue alcohol sponsorship brings, but she has called for the government to show strong leadership and follow the example of countries such as France in outlawing alcohol advertising at major sporting events, or on the jerseys of professional teams.

“I think the government should ban it,” Jayne said.

“I do also understand how exceptionally active and well-resourced the alcohol industry is, though. They are very good at lobbying and regularly are meeting politicians of all parties, and making sure they have allies in every pocket of the business community and civil society across Scotland.

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“So, it does seem like a big fight for government to take on, but it is their responsibility to do it, because they are there to work in the best interests of the people of Scotland.

“All the evidence from the World Health Organisation and elsewhere suggests that if the government do want to protect our health, they do have to take measures such as banning sports sponsorship by the alcohol industry.

“When you change something like this it is difficult to imagine what it is going to be like, but sometimes you’ve got to be brave and have a bit of political leadership on issues like this if we are to try and reset our relationship with alcohol.

“That is something we desperately need to do, and we can’t just rest on one policy alone like minimum unit pricing. We need to shift the whole lot and take forward measures like banning sports sponsorship by alcohol companies.”

Jayne says there is a level of ‘cognitive dissonance’ between the laudable steps that many football clubs are now taking in launching initiatives to help supporters with issues around their mental health, while simultaneously promoting a product that can cause significant harm to them, both mentally and physically.

“It is completely disconnected,” she said.

“It must be really, really tough for some people who are big fans of their football team, but they see that team promoting a product that has destroyed their family life or home life and caused so much pain in their relationships.

“So, it doesn’t really seem fair on fans to keep marketing this product at them. It’s not everyone of course, but for many people, it will be causing a problem in their day-to-day life.

“Why should alcohol, which is ultimately a health-harming product, be associated with an activity like sport which is about health, participation and all these positive things that we want to encourage in people’s lives and in our communities?

“To then undermine that with sponsorship from alcohol companies, it seems hypocritical and it goes against a lot of the values that clubs stand for locally when they do work to support local communities and disadvantaged groups.

“To then on the other hand promote a product that is damaging for so many people, it just seems there is a complete cognitive dissonance there.”

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The argument for a ban on alcohol advertising and sponsorship though, Jayne argues, is wider than just the protection of those with alcohol addiction issues.

“It’s not just about people who are dependent on alcohol,” she said.

“It’s also about lots of us who drink too much, if we are faced with those constant regular nudges to drink alcohol then we will always drink a bit too much. It is stacked against us.

“To use a sporting reference, it’s not a level playing field. We’re not in a neutral arena here, because we are being prompted on a regular basis to drink alcohol, whether we even realise it or not.

“Half the time we won’t notice it, but it will add up to this idea that the next time you go down to the shop you should buy alcohol, or when you watch football or rugby you should be drinking alcohol, and particularly the brands that we are exposed to when watching those sports.

“And let’s face it, we know that it works, otherwise these sponsors wouldn’t be spending so much on sponsorship or sports marketing more generally.

“We know that it does prompt people to buy alcohol, and we know in Scotland that we can’t really afford to keep doing that for our health.”