Medical Association tells investigating ministerial panel that ending alcohol sponsorship of sporting icons is vital if NZ is to see a shift in the culture of drinking, but sports bodies are resisting further restrictions.
The Medical Association is calling for a ban on all liquor industry sponsorship of sports and youth events and backs a proposal to ban alcohol ads on TV and radio before 10pm in a submission to a ministerial panel.
Doctors have told a forum on Alcohol Advertising and Sponsorship, chaired by former rugby league coach Graham Lowe, that "ending alcohol sponsorship of our sporting icons is particularly important if we are to see a shift in the culture of drinking in New Zealand".
Its submission comes as Massey University research shows that drinking alcohol is seen as "part of the atmosphere" at three iconic sports events: Auckland's Heineken Open tennis tournament, Wellington's Rugby Sevens and one-day cricket.
Unsurprisingly, sports bodies have asked Mr Lowe's forum not to introduce any further restrictions on alcohol advertising or sponsorship.
NZ Rugby League chief executive Phil Holden said many clubs depended on liquor funding.
"Some of our clubs have relationships with some of the different breweries and alcohol brands and there is a little bit of income coming through, and they are not that robust that if you took it away, what do you replace it with?"
Mr Lowe's six forum members were appointed in March by Justice Minister Judith Collins and Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne to consider whether further restrictions on alcohol advertising and sponsorship are needed to reduce alcohol-related harm.
They are expected to form their main conclusions in a two-day workshop this month that will have an independent facilitator and another independent person to write up a report. They are due to report back to ministers by October 1.
Medical Association chairman Dr Mark Peterson said doctors saw the medical costs of binge drinking and cited research showing it was boosted by ads and sponsorship.
"In-your-face marketing via sponsorship actually changes or influences behaviour. It particularly influences the behaviour of younger people," Dr Peterson said.
The association proposes phasing out all alcohol sponsorship of sports and youth events such as music festivals.
It also endorses a 2010 Law Commission proposal to ban alcohol advertising on TV and radio before 10pm and to limit alcohol advertising in all media to solely "objective product information".
The Massey research backs up the claim of "in-your-face marketing via sponsorship". It found "an entrenched, naturalised culture of alcohol promotion and consumption at some sports events in New Zealand".
Majorities of the crowds at all three iconic events said they were aware of alcohol promotions at the events and drank alcohol while there.
Analysis of Sky TV broadcasts found alcohol billboards were visible for 53 per cent of the 2012 Heineken Open, 30 per cent of the 12 Rugby World Cup matches in 2011, 25 per cent in two 2012 one-day cricket matches and 9 per cent of the 2012 Rugby Sevens. Cameras at the cricket were also aimed at drinking spectators for a quarter of the time.
Massey sports management lecturer Dr Sarah Gee concluded: "The difficulty facing the ministerial taskforce is just trying to disconnect this very entrenched cultural connection between sport and alcohol."
AC Nielsen said alcohol advertising was worth $50.4 million in the year to April 30, or 1.5 per cent of all advertising spending.
Foundation for Advertising Research director Glen Wiggs said corporate alcohol sponsorship was $20.7 million at last count in 2010. That figure excluded local pub sponsorship of clubs, but he said that would total less than $1 million.
A spokesman for the NZ Rugby Union did not want to comment.
DB Breweries, whose products include Heineken beer, also knew of the submission but had no comment.
Representatives of the Rugby Sevens and Heineken Open did not return calls.
Calling the shots
What: Ministerial Forum on Alcohol Advertising and Sponsorship.
Appointed by: Justice Minister Judith Collins and Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne.
Members: Graham Lowe (chair), Prof Max Abbott and Tuari Potiki (addiction experts), Sandra Alofivae (lawyer), Dr Farah Palmer (Maori Rugby Board), Hilary Souter (Advertising Standards Authority).
Role: Determine whether additional restrictions on alcohol advertising and sponsorship are needed.
Reporting date: October 1.
Read the report here: