MINISTERS are being urged to do everything they can to restrict alcohol advertising despite key powers being reserved to Westminster.

Alcohol Focus Scotland – a charity working to prevent and reduce harms from alcohol – has insisted there is “quite a lot” the Scottish Government could do to limit the marketing of booze which is having an impact on how much youngsters drink.

CEO Alison Douglas said it was important to be “realistic” about what Scotland can do, with powers over TV and radio advertising in the hands of the UK Government.

But she maintained the time had come to crack down on how much children are exposed to the promotion of alcohol products.

The charity is also calling for minimum unit pricing (MUP) to be increased from 50p per unit to 65p given the original level has been “eroded by inflation”.

It comes after health minister Maree Todd said the Scottish Government will be considering further curbs on advertising as she insisted she finds the current levels “deeply troubling”.

Todd wrote to the UK Government in December to ask it to further restrict TV and radio advertising as they have with high fat, salt, and sugar foods, but is still awaiting a response.

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She has, however, announced a consultation will be carried out in Scotland in the autumn on a number of proposals aimed at reducing the attraction of drinking.

Douglas said she would like to see action over the sponsorship of events, billboard advertising and marketing in publications and the retail sector.

She told The National: “The World Health Organisation recommends a ban [on alcohol advertising] entirely and we think there are benefits to that.

“When you partially restrict marketing companies will try and find a way of circumventing the rules and you get displacement effects. More effort then goes into the channels and activities which are still available.

The National: Alison Douglas, CEO of Alcohol Focus ScotlandAlison Douglas, CEO of Alcohol Focus Scotland

“We’ve got to be realistic that Scotland doesn’t have powers over all aspects of alcohol marketing, for example we don’t control broadcast that’s reserved to Westminster.

“So what we would be calling on the Scottish Government to do is to take as comprehensive an approach as it can.

“There’s a lot that could be done like restricting marketing at public places, sponsorship of sports and music and cultural events, billboard advertising, advertising in publications, or how alcohol is promoted in a retail environment. There’s quite a lot the Scottish Government can and should do.

“We have a system that’s not protecting young people or those with alcohol problems. The evidence is building we need to be regulating advertising.”

Todd outlined her plan to address the issue at a Health, Social Care, and Sport Committee meeting with MSPs earlier this week.

She told members there was, according to research, a direct link between advertising and children’s consumption of booze which often leads to health problems in later life.

A survey carried out in 2018 with 3,000 young people found more than half had seen 32 instances of alcohol advertising in a month, equating to around one a day.

As well as tackling levels of marketing, she also said MUP – currently set at 50p per unit – could be raised further but added “robust” evidence was needed.

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Todd said: “Minimum unit price was introduced in 2018 and we’re in the final-year of our five-year evaluation period.

“Twelve months after MUP was introduced, we saw a decrease of 2% in alcohol sales in the off-trade.

“We also saw a decrease in alcohol-specific deaths of 10%.

“We can’t prejudge what evaluation of MUP will say. Any price must be supported by robust evidence.”

Unfortunately, since the pandemic hit, alcohol-specific deaths have increased and there’s evidence to show some groups who were already drinking at dangerous levels began drinking more, despite alcohol sales falling overall.

AFS want to see MUP uprated to at least 65p to ensure it keeps pace with inflation and Douglas said it must be index-linked going forward.

Douglas added: “We’ve got some preliminary evidence MUP is having a positive effect.

“The critics of MUP were saying people will go down in their droves to England to buy their alcohol and there’s no evidence of that. Others said it would damage the Scottish whisky industry, there’s no evidence of that either.

“So this suggests to me it is working but they [the Scottish Government] just need to optimise it. We worked out MUP of 50p in 2012 was equivalent to 62p in autumn 2021. It would be more than that now.

“We along with other organisations like the British Medical Association are calling on the Scottish Government to uprate it to 65p per unit.

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“We know it’s having a positive effect so let’s dial it up a little bit. Inflation is running higher now, so it needs to be at least 65p per unit and it needs to be index-linked going forward so it doesn’t get eroded year-on-year.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Exposure to alcohol marketing can make drinking alcohol more attractive to children, young people and those in recovery. The Scottish Government will consult on a range of potential restrictions on alcohol advertising and promotion to protect these vulnerable groups. We are currently developing proposals and are considering all methods of advertising and promotion.”