Australia’s alcohol marketers will have to adhere to one of the world’s toughest alcohol marketing codes, after our Responsible Alcohol Marketing Code was strengthened following an extensive 15-month public consultation process.

That consultation process considered a wide range of submissions from government, health organisations and industry and community opinion research to ensure the regulations are in line with expectations on appropriate advertising of alcohol products.

The strengthened code, which is overseen by the independent Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC) scheme includes changes that will further protect children from exposure to alcohol advertising and help the Code keep pace with changing marketing methods particularly on social and digital media.

ABAC said today that key changes include:

  • Increasing the percentage of adult viewers required before alcohol advertising is permitted around television programmes from 75 per cent to 80 per cent to ensure Australia’s Code is best practice globally.
  • Expanding the definition of ‘Strong and Evident Appeal to Minors’ to further ensure that alcohol advertisements do not engage young people.
  • Expanding restrictions on the direct marketing of alcohol by toughening requirements to offer opt outs from this marketing and ensure these are honoured.
  • Tighter restrictions on what is meant by responsible and moderate alcohol consumption including the unacceptability of treating excessive alcohol consumption as amusing and of negatively portraying abstinence or refusal of alcohol.
  • Following concerns raised during the COVID pandemic the review of the Code clarifies that suggesting consumption of alcohol offers a therapeutic benefit is prohibited and this has been expanded to clarify that this includes a health or mental health benefit, and it is not permissible to suggest alcohol helps overcome problems or adversity.
  • The Code has also been extended to cover the marketing of ‘alcohol alternatives’ ie products styled as beer, wine, spirits etc but with an ABV of less than 0.5 per cent. Since the last Code review there has been significant growth in this product sector globally. This extension aims to protect minors by ensuring that alcohol alternative marketing does not inadvertently model inappropriate alcohol use.

ABAC is chaired by former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Harry Jenkins AO and has former Attorney-General Michael Lavarch AO as its Chief Adjudicator and the Code is world leading as one of the strictest alcohol advertising regimes of its kind.

Jenkins said: “The ABAC scheme is already one of the strictest codes of its kind for alcohol advertising in the world.

“It is an example of government, industry and other independent stakeholders joining together to ensure alcohol advertising is appropriate and in line with efforts to reduce harmful consumption and protect young people. 

“But we recognise the need for the Code to do more to keep pace with the changing marketing environment, particularly in relation to protecting young people. 

“We’ve consulted widely and believe that the changes to strengthen the Code will ensure its continued effectiveness by both pro-actively educating the industry on best practice responsible marketing and also re-actively addressing alcohol marketing that fails to meet these high standards through assessment of public complaints by the independent expert complaints panel.

“Proactively, ABAC offers a wide range of resources that assist companies to meet the Code standards.  Last year the ABAC pre-vetting service considered 3397 items of marketing and rejected 590 before they could enter the market.  The pre-vetting service is a key proactive measure and has recently been bolstered by a certificated training course for industry and extensive compliance monitoring that was carried out last year to check that alcohol companies are applying the age restriction controls available on social platforms to prevent minors from seeing alcohol marketing.

“The Independent ABAC Adjudication Panel, led by Professor the Hon Michael Lavarch AO, received 126 public complaints in 2022, resulting in 63 determinations, where 28 of these determinations upheld the complaint and all resulted in the voluntary removal of the marketing that was found to breach an ABAC Code standard.”

Professor Lavarch added: “As the Chief Adjudicator, the changes to the Code are welcome.

“The strengthened Code gives our independent adjudication panel the authority it needs to continue to meet and exceed community standards when it comes to the responsible marketing of alcoholic products.”

The Report on ABAC’s review of the Responsible Alcohol Marketing Code was released this morning and in his statement on the review, Jenkins wrote: “The Committee acknowledges that alcohol is a product that is regulated due to its potential to cause harm within the community. 

“The objective of the Code and the Scheme as a whole is alcohol marketing consistent with the objectives of the National Alcohol Strategy for the reduction of harm from adult alcohol consumption and, specifically, does not encourage minors to consume alcohol.  The Code has been reviewed with this objective in mind.

“With such diverse stakeholder views, not everyone will be satisfied with the outcome of this review. 

“However, the Committee believes that important improvements have been made to what is an already effective and robust Code. In reviewing and making changes to the Code, the Committee was mindful that the Code is part of a wider regulatory framework for alcohol marketing in Australia, and complements State and Territory Liquor Licensing laws that regulate the promotion of alcohol beverages, Food Standards requirements for the packaging of alcohol beverages and a range of advertising and media industry Codes. 

“It is important that the Code complements and does not cut across other components of this framework. Since 1998 the ABAC Scheme has been an important contributor to responsible alcohol marketing in Australia.

“Data on the level and patterns of alcohol consumption indicate that the Code, pre-vetting service and complaints system have, together with the other regulatory components, had a positive impact.”

The full report on the ABAC Review of the Responsible Alcohol Marketing Code is available through the ABAC website.

Andy Young

Andy joined Intermedia as Editor of The Shout in 2015, writing news on a daily basis and also writing features for National Liquor News. Now Managing Editor of both The Shout and Bars and Clubs.

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