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Ineffective alcohol advertising watchdog says it was ok to stay in and drink up during pandemic

Tuesday 30 March, 2021

Twelve months since Australia first went into lockdown, Cancer Council has released a report demonstrating how industry codes failed to protect the community from harmful alcohol advertising during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report, Giving the ok to ‘Stay In. Drink Up’ examined how the industry-run Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC) Scheme responded to alcohol marketing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chair of the Cancer Council Alcohol Working Group, Julia Stafford, said when assessing the complaints about alcohol ads that referenced the pandemic, the ABAC Panel appeared to give no consideration to the impact the pandemic was having on the Australian community.

“There’s no doubt that many individuals and families in our communities were experiencing significant amounts of stress and anxiety due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ms Stafford said.

“Yet the ABAC Panel decided that promoting alcohol via isolation deals and lockdown survival packs was no different to referencing Christmas, the summer season or footy finals.

“To compare the global health crisis with summer and the festive season shows just how complacent the ABAC Scheme management is about the impacts of alcohol marketing.

“Alcohol ads including the phrases ‘Stay In.Drink Up’, ‘survival kits’, and ‘all day every day’ were deemed acceptable and complaints which raised significant concerns about alcohol promotions during the COVID-19 pandemic were dismissed.”

Cancer Council Victoria Senior Legal Policy Advisor, Sarah Jackson, said allowing the alcohol industry to be in charge of alcohol marketing rules is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.

“Alcohol companies are writing the rules about what can and cannot be advertised but they have an obvious vested interest in selling more alcohol,” Ms Jackson said.

“The lack of independent regulation is allowing the alcohol industry to profit from harmful alcohol advertising, including by exploiting the vulnerabilities of people in our communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As well as fuelling violence and harm in families and communities, alcohol is a class one carcinogen and a cause of at least seven types of cancer, including breast and bowel cancer.”

Ms Stafford called on the government to make change.

“It’s time for the Australian Government to introduce independent, legislated controls that protect the Australian community from harmful alcohol marketing, both during a pandemic and in the future,” Ms Stafford said.