Page last updated: Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Industry under threat? Self regulation and social responsibility
On Tuesday the 11th March, The Wine and Spirit Association and AIM held a conference ‘Industry under threat? Self regulation and social responsibility’ at the Royal College of General Practitioners, Hyde Park.

A full house included a balance of retailers, wine and spirit producers, brewers and organisations involved in alcohol issues, such as the Medical Council on Alcohol, the Portman Group, Alcohol Focus Scotland, the Amsterdam Group and the Ark Foundation. This led to a lively debate following an array on eminent speakers from diverse backgrounds.

Peter Duff, Executive Chairman of AIM opened the conference with a summary of what the problems are that face the industry, which include tackling drink-driving, under- age drinking, binge drinking and anti-social behaviour. The lack of accurate figures regarding alcohol misuse were highlighted leading to a variance in the involvement of alcohol in deaths of between 5,000 and 33,000 per annum in the UK. ‘The accuracy of figures, in a sense, is irrelevant’ stated Peter Duff ‘the industry must be seen to be pro-active in tackling the issues involved, or government legislation will be inevitable’.

Jean Coussins from the Portman Group then argued the case that self regulation is working well in Britain, and that the new code tackles hither to unmonitored areas such as the web, sponsorship, branded merchandise and advertorials. The code ensures that new products do not appeal to minors, suggest sexual success or encourage anti-social, illegal or excessive consumption. Jean Coussins concluded that compliance with self regulation has benefits to all - the producers who by complying with the code do not waste resources on developing unsuitable brands, the government who do not face the legal or man power costs of regulating the industry further and the consumer who are protected by an effective and well policed code.

Mark van Rijn, Public Affairs Manager of Heineken followed on with a stern wake up call for the industry. Commissioner Byrne of the European Commission has given the drinks business until December of this year to prove that it is taking effective action in combating alcohol misuse with a particular emphasis on young people. He illustrated the problem that the industry has with a lack of credibility with the public. A survey shows that global public opinion of different industry puts alcohol producers at —18% below the chemical and oil industry, with only tobacco beneath it. Hence the forcefield is against the industry in influencing governments and consumers as institutions such as WHO or EUROCARE are more trusted. WHO called for a reduction of total alcohol consumption by 25% between 1980 and 2000 and lobbies for a ban on alcohol advertising and limiting distribution.

European government priority is a focus on alcohol and youth and sees advertising as appealing to the underage, hence its focus is strongly on regulation if self regulation is not effective in their eyes. Mr van Rijn stated ‘The time for talking is over… individual companies need to invest in credibility through

visible proactive action based communication. The industry must enforce and re-enforce self regulation across Europe and expand its scope to all commercial communication’.

Tim How, Chief Executive of Majestic Wine plc and Chairman of the Wine and Spirit Association Retail panel believes the key issues that need to be tackled in the off trade are under age-drinking, cross border shopping and smuggling and unit awareness and unit labelling. He argued the case strongly for a national identity card, as current schemes are easily forged and there is confusion due to different ID cards. ID cards offer the simplest and most effective way of identifying under age customers in the retail environment. Tim How also called for a reduction in duty as the profits from smuggling led to the criminalisation of alcohol and the danger of its unregulated sale to minors in particular. Finally he emphasised the importance of staff training and public awareness of units. Staff training involves learning to say no to underage customers in particular and unit information on packaging helps the consumer understand the concept of sensible drinking guidelines.

Quentin Rappoport, Director of the Wine and Spirit Association and a member of the UK Joint Industry working Group on Social Issues explained the challenges facing the UK trade. He re-emphasised Mr van Rijn’s point of public trust and outlined the serious problems of under age drinking and binge drinking. ‘If we fail the industry faces regulation and constraints as well as taxes to curb drinking and or will have to pay for ‘damage’.

Quentin Rappoport spoke of the importance of all sectors of the industry working together, as they do in the working group, whose principles are to target measures at the misuse of alcohol and not to punish the majority of sensible drinkers. The WSA plans to make self regulation work through full cooperation with the Portman Group and to encourage neutral research to overcome the problem of sensational or inaccurate statistics regarding alcohol.

The industry cooperates with the Government Strategy unit and the ‘reducing alcohol related harm’ initiative was launched in June 2002 and its final report will be published in the Summer. The industry has called for evaluation of current laws and a reduction in duty, brief interventions in health centres and hospitals, the definition of a standard drink internationally and the advertising of the sensible drinking message. Finally crime and disorder partnerships at a local level coupled with good work place policies and training are a priority.

Dr. Thomas Stuttaford, General Practitioner and Medical Correspondent at The Times newspaper called for a National Identity Card and for a sea change in acceptance of violent and anti-social behaviour which plagues Britain’s city centres. He believes a decline in traditional pubs, which were community hearts are partly to blame, but believes the culture of going out expressly to get drunk ( an estimated I million young men and 190,000 young women each week) has to be changed and called for more ‘heavies’ in clubs as well as on the door to stop the serving of drinks to intoxicated and aggressive customers. Dr. Stuttaford outlined the role the Times has played over the last twenty years in reporting the good news on alcohol and health and encouraging sensible drinking. He thanked AIM for their balanced information and specialist papers on alcohol and health.

Dr Stuttaford’s words led naturally to Bob Cartwright, Director of Communications at Six Continents discussing the role of pubs and bars in promoting alcohol responsibly. As the biggest pub operator in Britain he was ideally placed to make recommendations. Mr Cartwright showed that trends are already moving towards a more sociable environment in the pub sector with more open pub design with more seating areas and an emphasis on food. In the last eight years food sales have grown from 11% to 30% of turnover and the categories of food, wine and soft drinks are expanding at the expense of draught beer. The changing male/female mix in these improved environment is also having an effect. He emphasised a recent move to increased investment in local pubs and their commitment to widening the appeal of the pub to all age groups. He believes the end of fixed closing times will end two important problems — hoards of young people spilling onto the streets at one time, having piled in the pints up to closing time and the end of public entertainment licenses resulting in the pubs who have been allowed to stay open pumping out loud music.

Six Continents have an alcohol and social responsibility policy which regulates promotions in its outlets. Each promotion must prove it does not encourage under age drinking or over indulgence in particular, company policy is not to serve intoxicated customers or those under 18. He called on all on trade operators to introduce an equally rigorous policy. Cartwright also emphasised the importance of crime and disorder partnerships and regular communication with the police, although he did not advocate extra payments from premises for policing. Finally he called for and ID card and for more test purchasing and age checks and closed by pointing out that most operators are responsible and that industry and society are changing rapidly ‘We need to make drunken behaviour as socially unacceptable as drink driving’.

Sally Cohen, European Marketing Director for Allied Domecq then illustrated how a global player can launch a new product responsibly. Tia Lusso carries the message ‘You just know to drink in Moderation’. The brand has grown to be number two in the cream liqueur sector in under year, proving that encouraging moderation has helped the products integrity and status - A moderation message is carried on all advertising and POS material. Allied have extended moderation messages to Ballantynes, Malibu and Makers Mark.

Are the media playing their part? was Barbara Scalera’s of Harpers Wine and Spirit’s debate. She believes the press and particularly the trade press plays the role of educator, promoter of responsibility issues and watchdog and finally must comply with the spirit of the code of practice. Ms Scalera surveyed Harpers staff as well as those of other trade papers and found there was little interaction between advertising departments and staff writers. Health or sensible drinking messages were often seen as not making exciting copy or as controversial as they may effect profitable trade. Scalera emphasised that there is a good rate of compliance with ASA guidelines and that few complaints are made against UK adverts. The industry cannot be complaisant however as Alcohol Concern, WHO and Eurocare are all calling for government regulation or an all out ban on alcohol advertising. The trade press should lead by example and not be afraid to name and shame unsuitable products and campaigns which could appeal to the under age, promote intoxication or violence or suggest enhanced sexual success. Harpers is committed to these aims and will carry a monthly feature on alcohol and health.

Finally Helena Conibear, Editorial Director of AIM spoke on the importance of impartial and accurate information and education regarding alcohol at every level. The subject of alcohol misuse was put in a historical context ‘along with some of the negative effects of intoxication and overuse — the preservative, antiseptic and anaesthetic effects of alcohol as well as its enjoyment have been appreciated since ancient times. Alcohol is, and always will be a double edged sword’. Helena highlighted the change in attitude in the industry, press, medical fraternity and government since the 1980’s. In 1989 it was estimated by MORI that 1.5 million drivers were intentionally drink driving, now 70% of drivers do not drink at all if driving and Britain boasts the best record in Europe, in spite of its relatively high BAC level, in lowering drink drive deaths and offences. Similarly in 1989 just 48% of the population had heard of units, now over 80% are aware with a further 78% of the population believing themselves informed of the dangers of misuse.

AIM’s role over the last ten years in providing peer reviewed and highly researched position papers regarding alcohol and health and social issues written by specialists in the field was outlined. These papers combined with cooperation of associations involved in alcohol affairs from around the world enable AIM to report with an international focus on campaigns, social issues, government activities and alcohol and health. An average of 80,000 visitors log onto AIM’s websites each month, proving AIM’s vital role in communicating the sensible drinking message at several levels — to the industry, the press, governments and perhaps most importantly to the consumer.

Helena concluded that following an ICAP study that showed in a survey of the governments of 48 nations on alcohol policy that public education was cited as the most important criteria after underage drinking ‘An informed consumer is a wise consumer, who will help spread the message that if you drink sensibly, you have a safer, happier, healthier time than those who misuse alcohol or even those who don’t drink at all’.

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