LONDON – British doctors called for a ban on alcohol advertisements Tuesday, saying the move was necessary to challenge Britain's dangerous drinking culture.
The British Medical Association argued in a report that a rapid increase in alcohol consumption among young Britons in recent years was being underpinned by "clever alcohol advertising" and that a prohibition on alcohol-related publicity was needed to help turn the situation around.
"Our society is awash with pro-alcohol messaging and marketing," Dr. Vivienne Nathanson, the association's head of science and ethics, said in a statement. "We need to look beyond young people and at society as a whole."
The association, which represents more than two-thirds of Britain's practicing doctors, has repeatedly warned of the dangers of the country's increasingly deadly drinking habit. In a widely publicized report last year, the association said Britain was among the hardest-drinking countries in Europe and noted its alcohol-related death rate had nearly doubled between 1991 and 2005 — from 6.9 to 12.9 per 100,000 people.
Although the group has lobbied for higher taxes and stricter regulation in the past, its new report called for a total ban on all alcohol advertisements.
The report said Britain's drinks industry spends $1.24 billion annually promoting alcohol consumption, wielding its "prodigious marketing skills and massive budgets to promote positive images about alcohol, and back these up with incentives, branding and sophisticated public relations."
The report called for the drinks industry to be banned from sponsoring sporting events like the FA Cup — currently backed by Danish brewer Carlsberg — or the Grand National race — whose title sponsor is John Smith's Ale. It also said alcohol ads should be wiped from newspapers and billboards and kicked off radio and television.
British brewers acknowledged that the country's drinking culture could use changing, but said bans and higher taxes weren't the answer.
"We believe culture change is more likely to be achieved through long-term education and tough enforcement," said Jeremy Beadles, the chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association.
Britain's government would not be drawn on the idea of an ad ban. The Department of Health said in a statement that "it's not always right to legislate," while the Advertising Standards Authority said its codes were already "among the strictest in the world."