A complaint over an NHS advert showing a tumour slowly growing in the bottom of a man’s beer glass with the tag line “the more often you drink, the more you increase your risk of developing cancer”, has been dismissed by the the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
The advertisement, promoted by Balance, an alcohol awareness charity and part of the County Durham & Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, depicts a man preparing a meal in a kitchen and pouring a beer into a glass.
As the man proceeds to drink the beer, a tumour is seen to slowly grow at the bottom of the glass and slide toward his mouth.
A voice over then states: “The World Health Organisation classifies alcohol as a group one carcinogen. Like tobacco and asbestos, it can cause cancer. The more you drink and the more often you drink, the more you increase your risk of developing cancer. Find out how you can reduce your risk. Go to reducemyrisk.tv.”
The advert prompted a joint complaint from the The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), the Campaign For Real Ale (CFRA), the Society of Independent Brewers (SIB), J W Lees and Co Brewery and three other complainants who said it was “misleading and irresponsible” and implied that drinking only small amounts would increase someone’s risk of developing cancer.
Responding to the complaint Balance said they did not want the ad to be too “alarmist”, despite evidence linking “moderate” and “light” drinking with an increased risk of cancer.
Speaking on behalf of Balance, the ASA said: “The ad aimed to depict routine drinking, whereby a man consumed a bottle of beer as part of a typical every day task; cooking dinner for his children. They said the ad conveyed the impression that the man featured consumed alcohol on a regular and routine basis, and that at no point did the ad state or imply that the man featured was only consuming one glass of beer on that particular occasion.
“They believed the ad was similar to the approach utilised by the NHS when promoting an awareness of the harms associated with smoking, in that one cigarette would be used to represent habitual usage. Similar to that approach, Balance intended the consumption of one drink to be interpreted as a proxy for routine drinking.”
The BBPA, CFRA and SIB objected to the implied risks associated with moderate alcohol consumption, and pointed toward evidence to suggest that moderate levels of alcohol intake were associated with lower mortality risk overall health benefits compared with abstention, however the ASA did not uphold their complaint.
In dismissing their concerns the ASA said: “We considered that the overarching message of the ad was that the consumption of alcohol could cause cancer, the more alcohol an individual consumed the greater that risk, and that viewers should reflect on, and potentially reduce, their alcohol intake.
“We did not consider that the ad over-emphasised the risk of developing alcohol related cancers, or suggested that viewers should significantly reduce their intake or abstain from the consumption of alcohol completely.
“In addition, we noted that the ad encouraged viewers to visit the website www.reducemyrisk.tv and find out more about the Government’s recommended guidelines and for guidance regarding their own drinking habits. Therefore, we concluded that the ad was not misleading or irresponsible.”