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Scotland’s alcohol advertising ban ‘sent back to drawing board’

Published:  19 April, 2023

After significant backlash from the Scottish drinks trade proposals to restrict alcohol advertising north of the border have been, “sent back to the drawing board”, first minister Humza Yousaf has announced.

The consultation, which was headed up by MSP Maree Todd, proposed law changes including a ban on alcohol billboard adverts and sports and music festival sponsorships.

In a statement to the Scottish Parliament, Mr Yousaf said: “The aim of this consultation – to reduce the harm caused by alcohol to children – is admirable. I support it wholeheartedly.

“But it is clear that some of the proposals have caused real concern to an industry which is already facing challenges on multiple fronts.

“I have therefore instructed my officials to take these ideas back to the drawing board, and to work with the industry, and with public health stakeholders, to agree a new set of proposals.

“I believe that all of us want to reduce the harm caused by alcohol, particularly to young people but without undermining Scotland’s world-class drinks industry or tourism sector.

“I am hopeful that by taking a fresh look at this issue, we can find a way forward which achieves both of those aims.”

The consultation, which was first launched in January 2023, suggested the possibility of in-store restrictions such as storing alcohol behind the counter, or in a cordoned-off area where products would not be visible up to a minimum height of 1.5 metres, as they do now in Ireland following a law change in 2020.

Speaking to Harpers when the proposal was first announced, Blair Bowman, the whisky consultant and broker said: “Scotch whisky has GI (Geographical Indication) protected status which shows how unique and special Scotch whisky is. However, in their proposals, the Scottish government have said that by removing marketing and branding, all sub-categories of alcohol are essentially the same thing. 

“This is a very odd thing for the government to say about a national product with GI status and seems to disregard the diverse range of flavour profiles and craftsmanship that makes Scotch whisky so popular.”

He added: “The proposals for alcohol-branded merchandise could make visitor centres at whisky distillers, as well as gin distilleries and breweries, unviable. These are typically in rural communities providing great jobs and tourism experiences. 

“Whisky tourism is increasingly popular and a real draw for visitors to Scotland but these new proposals would make the already challenging trading situation even harder.”

At present, alcohol marketing is mostly self-regulated by the industry with the exception of TV, which is overseen by Ofcom.

During yesterday’s session in parliament (19 April), Yousaf also announced a delay to the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), which was due to come into effect on 16 August 2023.

Despite the scheme's environmental initiative, many businesses have highlighted the administrative and financial burdens the DRS will bring during already difficult economic times.

Following months of petitioning from the drinks trade, the scheme is now expected to launch in March 2024, which will allow the Scottish government to address the concerns raised by the industry.