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Last Updated: Saturday, 29 April 2006, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
Will adverts cut drink problem?
Gail Champion
BBC Five Live Report

Still from Portman Group/Drinkaware Trust new advertising campaign
The 30-second advert focuses on men drinking in a bar.

With health problems related to alcohol consumption soaring, the drinks industry and the retailers stand accused of encouraging the problem rather than helping to overcome it.

If you go to the cinema this week you are quite likely to see an advert warning against the dangers of alcohol.

The 30-second film tells the story of a young man on a night out who gets more and more drunk and ends up knocking another man unconscious - to the disgust of a girl he had been trying to impress.

It is being launched to run alongside the film Mission Impossible III. And that might be seen as appropriate by health campaigners trying to increase awareness of Britain's growing drink problem.

Campaigns of this kind simply don't make any real difference
Professor Martin Plant

The adverts are being paid for by The Portman Group, which represents the drinks industry.

They follow recent TV ads warning against excessive consumption paid for by Diageo, maker of Smirnoff Vodka, Gordon's Gin and Guinness.

Research by The Portman Group suggests the hard-hitting advert would make around half of drinkers stop and think about their behaviour.

Comments from a focus group ranged from "it's very effective" to "if that was my mate, I'd leave".

But alcohol expert Professor Martin Plant, of the University of West England, said these measures did not go far enough.

"Campaigns of this kind simply don't make any real difference to either the levels that people drink or the extent to which people damage themselves through inappropriate drinking," he said.

The things that alcohol did to me I wouldn't wish on anyone
Dave Corfield

The drinks industry spends 800m each year to promote its products. But should it also be asked to contribute to the far higher health costs of alcohol-related harm, estimated at 20bn?

The rate of deaths from liver disease in England has increased eight-fold since the 1970s. In Scotland there are now an estimated six alcohol-related deaths every day.

Still from Portman Group/Drinkaware Trust new advertising campaign
In the ad, the main character hits another drinker, leaving him with a bloody nose.

Dave Corfield, 55, is a former alcoholic whose life was saved by a liver transplant in 2004.

His drinking increased after a change to his shift pattern while working as a policeman in Salford.

"The things that alcohol did to me I wouldn't wish on anyone. People think you get plenty of notice. You don't," he said.

Increased globalisation has led to mounting pressure on multinationals to redress the balance between profits and risks to health.

Campaigners argue that alcohol companies should be held to account in the same way as the tobacco industry and fast food outlets.

Supermarkets have also come under fire for offering cheaper alternatives to pubs and bars.

Since November more than 350 supermarkets have obtained 24-hour licences to sell alcohol.

Alcohol campaigners are calling on supermarkets to increase prices to reduce the amount people can afford to drink.

We found that supermarket promotions and discounts increased the sales of alcohol products by around 25%
Jack Law, Alcohol Focus Scotland

The supermarkets say they actively support responsible drinking and restrict sales of alcohol to people aged over 21.

However, in a statement the UK's biggest supermarket, Tesco, said: "We do not see it as Tesco's role to dictate to consumers what they choose to buy."

Jack Law, of campaign group Alcohol Focus Scotland, believes supermarkets are able to influence people's purchases.

"We found that supermarket promotions and discounts increased the sales of alcohol products by around 25%," he said.

"People who are buying alcohol products on promotions are heavier spenders and actually return to the market more quickly as well."

Prof Plant says the problem is also a political issue that succeeding governments have "fought shy of addressing in an open and honest way".

Annual government spending on advertising the risks of smoking totals 24m.

Just 40,000 a year is spent warning against the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption.

  • The Booze Business is on BBC Radio's Five Live Report programme on Sunday 30 April at 1100 BST.

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