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“Cheaper than water!”: Alcohol advertising breach shows flaws in industry self-regulation

Wednesday 12 December, 2018

Cancer Council Victoria has welcomed a decision by the Alcohol Beverage Advertising Code (ABAC) scheme to uphold, in part, complaints over a series of irresponsible Facebook promotions by prepackaged liquor outlet, the Premix King.

The decision came after Cancer Council Victoria lodged a complaint with ABAC in October over seven Premix King Facebook posts considered to encourage risky drinking, by promoting the amount of alcohol in specific drinks and targeting minors. It is the third time this year the Premix King has been pulled up for irresponsible marketing tactics.

Cancer Council Victoria head of Prevention Craig Sinclair said in the latest infraction the Premix King posts were held to have flouted two of the ABAC advertising guidelines. These guidelines have been developed by the alcohol industry.

ABAC upheld Cancer Council Victoria’s complaint that the Premix King, through two of its Facebook posts, was encouraging people to buy products by emphasising their alcoholic strength and encouraging people to drink excessively.

“Alcohol is a group one carcinogen, as many as one in 20 deaths worldwide are caused by alcohol. And it’s the cause of more than 3200 people receiving the devastating news of a cancer diagnosis every year. We know alcohol can lead to breast cancer, bowel cancer and stomach cancer, as well as cancer of the oesophagus, throat, liver and mouth,” Mr Sinclair said.

“We should be protecting people from these harms, not encouraging them to engage in behaviour with potentially dire health implications.”

The ABAC complaint highlighted promotions from Premix King stores in Ocean Grove, Bacchus Marsh, Greensborough, Williamstown, Portland and Central Victoria. Posts by the Bacchus Marsh and Portland stores were upheld.

In its submission to ABAC, Cancer Council Victoria highlighted the Premix King’s excessive use of positive emojis, emotive use of language and pushing high alcohol drinks at extremely cheap prices to encourage consumers – particularly children and adolescents - to buy more alcohol.

Advertisements included such lines as: “what do we want… cheap grog…when do we want it? NOW!!!” And “440ml cans for a ridiculous $16.99 for a 10 pack… That’s just $1.69 a can! Cheaper than water! Feel free to pay $25 a pack or $5.50 a can with our competitors!”

But ABAC held that this targeting of young people and aggressive promotion of price did not breach the industry rules.

It is the second time this year ABAC has heard - and upheld – similar complaints against the Premix King. And in October, the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation banned a series of Premix King’s Facebook posts under section 115A of the Liquor Control act for similar reasons – it is the first time in three years this power has been used in Victoria.

Premix King is not a signatory to ABAC and therefore is under no obligation to comply with rulings of the Code.

“This ruling and the previous decision against ABAC shows us why industry self-regulation is flawed,” Mr Sinclair said.

“ABAC has no power to force the Premix King to pull the posts, nor prevent them uploading similar, irresponsible posts in the future.”

Mr Sinclair urged the State Government to step in to better regulate alcohol advertising, particularly social media advertising, which is currently an unregulated space.

“It’s time to stop letting the alcohol industry set its own rules,” he said.

“Governments are in place, in part, to protect the community from harm; we know alcohol is one of the leading causes of early death.

Mr Sinclair said online marketing and communications should be subject to greater checks and controls, outdoor alcohol advertising should be banned from places regularly frequented by young people, such as near schools and around public transport and in shopping malls and phased out from all sporting and cultural events that expose young people to alcohol.

“Government needs to regulate the alcohol industry to stamp out this kind of behaviour. Alcohol causes at least eight different types of cancer, not to mention other chronic diseases,” he said.

“The industry will continue to advertise in irresponsible ways to increase profits, driving further harm, unless the government steps in and introduces effective regulation which covers the whole industry.

“The health of the community should be a greater priority than the profits of big alcohol providers.”