INDUSTRY claims about the damage curbs on alcohol marketing would do to the economy and businesses in Scotland should be treated with a “healthy degree of caution”, a charity has insisted.

A Scottish Government consultation seeking people’s initial views on prohibiting booze adverts and alcohol sponsorship closed earlier this month and sparked an outcry from big players such as Diageo and Budweiser.

More than 100 firms which ­produce alcohol signed an open letter to ­Holyrood ministers saying “Don’t ­destroy Scotland’s whisky industry” as they feared a “blanket ban” on alcohol marketing and sponsorship could dent their profits.

But Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, has said she has serious concerns about the alcohol industry fighting for a “seat at the table” over the issue when they have an inherent conflict of interest against reducing people’s drink intake.

Douglas told the Sunday ­National: “The alcohol industry is reliant on people drinking above the risk ­guidelines for significant proportion of its profits.

“So there is this inherent ­conflict ­between policies which improve ­public health and these ­health-harming industries. This is a global attempt – as the tobacco ­industry did before it – to obstruct progressive public health policies.

“The single biggest concern I have about the recent debate is the alcohol industry is making a claim for a seat at the table.

“The industry are not experts on public health, they’re not experts on alcohol harm, and they have an ­inherent conflict of interest in ­reducing alcohol consumption.”

She added how she feels the ­industry is being “selective” about data it is using to suggest there isn’t a problem with drink in Scotland.

“We have a huge problem with alcohol in Scotland and industry keep trying to persuade decision makers that we don’t by choosing to compare deaths or hospitalisations with 2008, which was the absolute worst time for rates of alcohol harm,” added Douglas.

“We’ve seen a 22% rise in alcohol deaths in the last two years so the ­direction of travel is a big flashing red light.”

The World Health Organisation recommends the three “best buys” for reducing alcohol harm are ­increasing the price and controlling marketing and sales.

It also suggests “regulatory ­controls on the market must be decided and enforced by governments”.

The Scottish Government, in its 2018 Alcohol Framework, said it would work with the alcohol industry on projects which can impact meaningfully on reducing alcohol harms but not on health policy ­development, health messaging campaigns or on provision of education in schools and beyond the school setting.

Back in 2018 when minimum unit pricing (MUP) was introduced, the industry made claims about how the move would impact negatively on whisky exports while the CEO of Whyte and Mackay suggested it could spark job losses.

In January, a report found MUP had actually had no economic ­impact on the alcoholic drinks industry – ­another reason why Douglas ­insists the industry’s lobbying against ­marketing restrictions needs to be handled with caution.

She said: “Previous experience on MUP would suggest that some of their [the industry’s] claims are not borne out in practice. Scotch whisky exports grew in both 2018 and 2019, following the introduction of MUP, and in 2022 the value of exports was up 37% by value, to a record £6.2bn.

“Other countries have managed to implement alcohol marketing ­restrictions without devastating their economies. If we look at experience from tobacco, there’s been a ban on marketing without sport or events or retailers going out of business.

“Ireland now has set of ­restrictions on alcohol marketing. Tourism hasn’t gone to the wall, production of ­alcohol hasn’t gone to the wall, so I think we need to treat with a healthy degree of critical analysis and caution the claims made by the industry.”

In Ireland, all alcohol ­advertising in or on a sports area during a sports event is prohibited while alcohol ­advertising at an event for children, or at which the majority of ­participants or competitors are children, is also banned.

Not only is there evidence that ­alcohol marketing leads to children and young people drinking earlier, and hinders the progress of those who are recovering from addiction, but Douglas insisted it has an impact on all of us in the way it normalises drinking, to the point where most of us don’t even notice how ingrained it is in our lives.

She said: “There is a high degree of public and political consensus that action needs to be taken to protect children and young people. We had a campaign on protecting children and young people for five years, and in the previous parliament we had over half of MSPs sign up to that and 75% of the public agreed in our last ­survey that children and young ­people should be protected from ­alcohol marketing.

“I think it would also be naïve to ­assume alcohol marketing doesn’t play a broader role in terms of ­normalising alcohol consumption in the population more generally. If you think at the moment for example with the Six Nations rugby – it’s patriotic and it’s part of being a rugby fan to drink Guinness.

“That’s them [the industry] exploiting that emotional connection we have with teams and sporting heroes. It’s not even in our conscious minds that it’s having an influence on us.”

A second consultation with ­specific proposals on how to most ­appropriately curb alcohol ­marketing will be brought forward by the ­Scottish Government and all three SNP leadership candidates have been contacted by Alcohol Focus Scotland to lay out their pledges on how they will reduce alcohol harm.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said last month the consideration of a ban on marketing was not about doing economic damage to the industry, but about taking responsible steps to protect public health, which Douglas said she agreed with.

She added: “Public health ­advocates are characterised as ­wanting to tell people what to do, but actually it’s ­alcohol marketing that is telling ­people what to do.

“It’s telling them that ­alcohol is ­desirable. There’s no way that any ­government could ever have a ­campaign that was ­anywhere near close to the volume of ­alcohol ­marketing we are seeing on a daily basis.”