Call for beer tax to help sports clubs break free of alcohol sponsorship

A health expert who wants a ban on alcohol sponsorship in sports says a 2c tax per can of beer would be enough to cover clubs' lost revenue. 

Alcohol Healthwatch has lodged a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) over rugby club the Highlanders' deal with Speight's, a beer brand owned by Lion, a subsidiary of Japanese company Kirin. 

It's alleged the branding amounts to advertising alcohol to children, which goes against the advertising industry's voluntary code. 

The ASA's Code for Advertising and Promotion of Alcohol, effective from the start of April, says alcohol company's sponsorship should "only briefly and in a subordinate way mention the sponsor’s name / and or brand name and /or logo". 

But the Highlanders' jerseys, which they wear even when they visit local schools, has the Speight's branding being front and centre.

"We know that brand awareness increases attitudes towards drinking and increases consumption, so we want to limit the exposure of brands in our country," Alcohol Healthwatch director Nicki Jackson told The AM Show on Thursday. 

"The Warriors, for the first time this year since 1995, don't have an alcohol brand on their sleeve. Sky Sport stepped in. There are other sponsors out there." 

It's been illegal for tobacco brands to sponsor sporting events since 1990, and as Dr Jackson pointed out, there's no alcohol sponsorship at the French Open tennis tournament currently in progress, because alcohol sponsorship of sporting events is banned there - and has been for 30 years. 

"The sky won't fall in, just like it didn't with tobacco."

Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick has a Member's Bill in the ballot that would end alcohol sponsorship. She says about $26 million is spent a year, which could easily be covered by a levy. 

Dr Jackson says just 2c a can of beer, 6c per bottle of wine and 7c a bottle of spirits would be enough. 

"The evidence is clear, it's the same as it was when we banned tobacco advertising - that children, when they're exposed to alcohol sponsorship and marketing, take up drinking earlier and drink heavier amounts."

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark, who was behind the tobacco sponsorship ban when she was Minister of Health in 1990, said it was "harmful and wrong" for the Speight's Facebook page to include photos of children with players wearing the beer's brand.

"This in my opinion amounts to advertising alcohol to children," she told Newsroom. To offset the loss of revenue when she banned tobacco sponsorship, the Smokefree brand was created. 

Last year the Government banned advertising vaping altogether. The ban on tobacco advertising happened slowly - starting with a ban on TV and radio promotions in 1963, culminating in 2018's plain packaging rules.

But alcohol keeps getting a pass, says Dr Jackson.

"The World Health Organization says restricting marketing is one of the most cost-effective and effective things you can do to reduce alcohol consumption."

Lion told Newshub the company is yet to see the complaint.

"Speight’s have a long history of proudly supporting the Highlanders over many years," a spokesperson said.

"Whilst we are aware of a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority about our sponsorship of the team, it has not yet been sent to us and therefore we are unable to comment on the content at this time. However, we take our obligations to responsible marketing and sponsorship very seriously and we always advocate strongly for a safe and moderate approach to the consumption of our products."

A review on alcohol advertising rules will take place later this parliamentary term, Justice Minister Kris Faafoi said, giving advertisers time to adjust to the new code. 

Few ASA complaints about alcohol advertising are upheld - just 16 percent in the last seven years. About a third are settled, with the rest either not upheld or the ASA ruling there's no grounds to even investigate. 

Nicki Jackson.
Nicki Jackson. Photo credit: The AM Show

'They're heroes for our children'

The Highlanders recently visited an Otago school to serve breakfast - specifically porridge, supplied by another sponsor, Harraways. They wore their jerseys, photos uploaded to social media showing the Speight's logo wasn't covered up.

"They're heroes for our children," Otago Primary Principals' Association president Gareth Swete told The AM Show.

"They come in and promote physical activity, they promote leadership, they promote perseverance. They're also very humble. I think they're excellent role models for our children. 

"It's an interesting debate and I think it's worth the conversation around having the Speight's logo... but I think we have to give our children a little bit of credit as well. Schools pride themselves on developing critical thinkers. I know for example after the Highlanders' visit there wasn't a great upsurge in children's Google searches of [another sponsor] Coresteel Building for example, because it's not relevant for them.

"I can see both sides of the argument, but in this particular instance I think that the Highlanders were there promoting the positive side of sport."

He said Lion doesn't directly pay for any school sports equipment, and a couple of balls the Highlanders donated didn't have the Speight's logo. 

"I have three young children myself and wouldn't hesitate to go along to a Highlanders game - in fact we do often. I see it as my role as a parent to educate my children on responsibility and what branding, in particular, might be relevant to them."