WHO calls on countries to bridge gaps in regulating alcohol marketing

Geneva, May 10 (IANS) Sophisticated online marketing of alcohol increasingly targets young people and heavy drinkers that can often be detrimental to their health, according to a new report released on Tuesday by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The first such report from WHO details the full extent of the way that alcohol is today being marketed across national borders – often by digital means – and in many cases regardless of the social, economic or cultural environment in receiving countries.

The report calls on countries to regulate alcohol marketing as lack of regulation to address cross-border marketing of alcohol is of particular concern for children and adolescents, women, and heavy drinkers.

Globally, three million people die each year as a result of harmful use of alcohol – one every 10 seconds – representing about 5 per cent of all deaths. A disproportionate number of these alcohol-related deaths occur among younger people, with 13.5 per cent of all deaths among those who are 20-39 years of age being alcohol-related, the WHO said.

“Alcohol robs young people, their families and societies of their lives and potential,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, in a statement.

“Yet despite the clear risks to health, controls on the marketing of alcohol are much weaker than for other psychoactive products. Better, well enforced and more consistent regulation of alcohol marketing would both save and improve young lives across the world,” he added.

While many countries have some form of restrictions on alcohol marketing in place, generally they tend to be relatively weak. In a WHO 2018 study, it was found that, while most countries have some form of regulation for alcohol marketing in traditional media, almost half have no regulation in place for Internet (48 per cent) and social media (47 per cent) marketing of alcohol.

The report stated that the collection and analysis of data on users’ habits and preferences by global Internet providers has created new and growing opportunities for alcohol marketers to target messages to specific groups across national borders.

Further, sponsorship of major sporting events at global, regional and national levels is another key strategy used by transnational alcohol companies (which are gaining increasing dominance in the production and branding of alcohol beverages).

“The rising importance of digital media means that alcohol marketing has become increasingly cross-border”, said Dag Rekve of the Alcohol, Drugs and Addictive Behaviours Unit at the WHO, in the statement.

“This makes it more difficult for countries that are regulating alcohol marketing to effectively control it in their jurisdictions. More collaboration between countries in this area is needed,” Rekve said.

The report calls national governments to integrate comprehensive restrictions or ban of alcohol marketing, including its cross-border aspects, in public health strategies.