No and low alcohol products

Many leading alcohol producers now have alcohol-free and low-alcohol variants, beverages known in different countries around the world as no, low, zero, alcohol free or non-alcoholic drinks or simply NoLos. Those that are of concern to policy makers, politicians and parents are ones that share similar branding to their regular-strength counterparts, as they further normalise a culture of alcohol consumption and blur potential conflicts of interest in developing public health policies. 

 

The alcohol industry portrays these drinks as a solution for alcohol use or a harm reduction strategy for heavy alcohol users, but currently, as highlighted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) there is little evidence for this. The drinks, the WHO says, have possible drawbacks and implications, such as misleading minors, pregnant women, abstainers or those seeking to stop drinking about their actual ethanol content.  

Marketing concerns 

These products are becoming increasingly visible in settings where alcohol is not allowed to be marketed such as on the field of play in sports, near schools, on public transport and on TV and broadcast channels during the day. The increase of ads, using the same logos and branding of full-strength products, risks children being exposed to alcohol brand marketing and the normalisation of alcohol-like products in new settings. 

 

There are different versions of this kind of marketing. Alibi marketing are ads that promote regular-strength alcoholic drinks without mentioning the brand name. Examples include the use of the word ‘Probably’ during Heineken Cup rugby matches played in France, where there is a ban on alcohol advertising. Surrogate marketing or brand-sharing is the promotion of alcohol-free and low-alcohol products that use the core branding features of a regular-strength product – eg the placing of the text Guinness 0.0 on the field of play during sporting events. There are also examples of brand stretching – eg Guinness Clear – bottles of water packaged with the Guinness logo. 

 

AAI has in recent years been highlighting the surrogate marketing of zero alcohol products, in particular how they are used to circumvent advertising restrictions under Ireland’s Public Health Alcohol Act (PHAA). The PHAA measures to reduce alcohol advertising are in places that children inhabit – near schools, playgrounds, on trains and buses, in cinemas – and on the field of sports play.

 

Just as these legal mechanisms came into force, big alcohol brands began brand sharing – that is advertising zero alcohol beers using the same parent branding. AAI believes Ireland’s world-leading law is clear on this – commercial communication that directly or indirectly promotes alcohol using any trade description, i.e. trademark or emblem, is prohibited. The alcohol industry must be challenged over its continued and egregious flouting of the law in relation to the marketing of zero alcohol products in spaces outlawed by the PHAA. 

Concerns regarding the product as a ‘gateway’  

Like alcohol itself, zero alcohol products are ‘no ordinary products’ and seek to further normalise drinking at every single occasion in life. There is no end to the possibility of where industry will go with this or what other consequences might flow from it over time.

 

Another serious lacuna in regard to these products is that there is no law preventing zero alcohol drinks being sold to under 18-year-olds. It is understood that retailers, bars and pubs are generally treating such products as alcohol products and not selling to under 18s, but there is no legal framework around this. Additionally, studies of the marketing messages associated with no and low alcohol products suggest that they are being presented by the industry as additional products for consumption rather than substitutes. 

 

The World Health Organisation says : “As well as needing to be regulated in terms of sales and marketing, there is a need to monitor the consumption of these products to fully understand who is consuming them and in what settings.” 

 

In Ireland, gains are being made in reducing drinking in young people. Widespread marketing of these products has the potential to disrupt public health achievements as the potential risk of normalisation of alcohol use for young people could be developed.

In line with the WHO’s recommendations, AAI recommends: 

  • Prohibiting the marketing of zero alcohol drinks to children and in the spaces designated by PHAA as children’s environments. 
  • Banning brand sharing – i.e. advertising that associates zero alcohol products with the full-strength brands 
  • Developing regulations around the sale of NoLos, in particular zero alcohol products which are not suitable for children to purchase 
  • Monitoring the consumption of these products and impact on aggregated alcohol consumption to understand the public health implications of NoLos.

Read AAI’s policy briefing here

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