54-year-old Karen Slater, a mum of four from Ponteland, grew up around alcohol in a hostile and dangerous environment. She was a victim of child abuse and domestic violence and sought solace in alcohol, drugs and self-harm. At her lowest point Karen tried to take her own life and nearly died.

It was a major turning point for her and she knew that she had to break the cycle. Karen spent 15 years alcohol-free. On a low day, she saw an alcohol advert for pink gin and it was one of the triggers which caused her to relapse. Karen came through and now supports others in recovery and campaigns for change.

Karen said: “Alcohol marketing is insidious, it creeps up on you, making you feel like you’re not worthy and not good enough. Millions of people are battling alcohol addiction and seeing adverts every night. If you’re having a bad day or a bad moment then that could be enough for a relapse you never recover from.

“The adverts for alcohol never show the realities of what alcohol can do. The reality is a world away from the glamorous picture it paints. It’s vomiting the next day, life-changing illnesses, self-harming behaviours, robbing people of relationships. Alcohol robbed me of everything.”

In its response to the Scottish marketing consultation, Balance is calling for tighter restrictions on alcohol sports sponsorship, advertising in public spaces, retail environments and social media, TV and radio.

Restricting all alcohol advertising in outdoor and public spaces would most effectively prevent vulnerable groups, including children and young people and those in recovery being exposed to intrusive alcohol adverts when outside of the home.

Sue Taylor, Head of Alcohol Policy at Fresh and Balance, commented: “As Karen has bravely shared, alcohol marketing can be a trigger for relapse for people in recovery. It also profoundly influences children, encouraging them to drink earlier and to consume more.

“We welcome the approach taken by the Scottish Government to look at measures to restrict alcohol marketing. Unfortunately, we suffer with many of the same issues over the border in the North East of England, so it’s vital that the UK Government takes a similar approach. We know that there isn’t a single magic bullet to reduce alcohol harm, but greater regulation of alcohol marketing would be a step in the right direction.”

Almost three quarters of people surveyed in the North East (an independent survey commissioned by Balance in 2021) support measures to limit children’s exposure to alcohol.

Alice Wiseman, Director of Public Health for Gateshead Council and The Association of Directors of Public Health’s Policy Lead for Addiction, said: “In England we are going in the opposite direction to Scotland where the evidence shows that measures like minimum unit pricing are making a difference. When it comes to alcohol, we’re several decades behind where tobacco was, but we have a real opportunity to make strides in this area and protect populations.

“The evidence is really clear about what we need to do to tackle alcohol. We need a holistic approach which protects children from exposure to alcohol marketing as an absolute minimum. It’s not good enough that 10-year-olds are able to name alcohol brands because they see them everywhere. There is a clear roadmap and we urge the Government to consider an independent review on alcohol harm to protect the wider population and children who are growing up in families where people are drinking to excess.”

Alison Douglas, Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “Alcohol marketing is ubiquitous and it’s really hard to forget the urge to have a drink when you’re surrounded by appealing images of alcohol, as Karen’s story testifies. We have a duty to protect the most vulnerable groups in our communities – including those in recovery – from exposure to alcohol marketing and the potential for relapse. But all of us are affected by the normalisation and glamourisation of alcohol which implies it’s essential to relaxation and connecting with others. Whilst the alcohol industry is keen to protect its interests, the human toll is unacceptable.

“The evidence is strong – restricting marketing reduces harm and this is why we believe that the Scottish Government must introduce comprehensive statutory regulations to prevent exposure to alcohol marketing and protect and fulfil people’s human rights, including their right to health.”

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK said: “The Scottish Government should be applauded for following World Health Organisation recommendations to protect children and vulnerable adults. The evidence is clear, alcohol marketing increases harm and in the wake of the pandemic UK nations should be doing everything possible to prevent avoidable death and disease. As was the case with tobacco advertising bans, these proposals will be met with strong opposition from industry groups, however public health must take priority over private profit.”