Whisky consultant and broker Blair Bowman

Scottish drinks face restriction

25 January, 2023

The possibility of a clampdown on alcohol promotions has ruffled feathers in Scotch whisky quarters. 

The Scottish government has caused disruption in the whisky trade by releasing a consultation on potential restrictions to alcohol advertising and promotion in the country. The report, which states that “Scotland has a deep, longstanding and troubled relationship with alcohol”, hopes to “reduce the appeal of alcohol to young people” and “support a reduction in consumption of alcohol and subsequently improve their health and health prospects as adults”.

Whisky consultant and broker Blair Bowman disagrees with the report, saying: “They need to support these people on a fundamental level. It’s not just the alcohol – there’s poverty, unemployment, all of these things are interconnected that lead people to have this harmful level of drinking. But this approach with the alcohol advertising ban is going to apply to the whole population, which has adults who already have healthy and responsible, balanced lifestyles with drinking.”

Bowman says the research into this should be focused on charities such as the Scotch Whisky Action Fund: “That’s where there needs to be more attention. The products that are creating issues for people are unfortunately, the very cheap booze products.”

Effect on industry

However, there has been discussion among the drinks industry that the report fails to consider the implications to the trade in Scotland and the effect that this will have on local business and the economy. Bowman called the report “very extreme”, highlighting that it would be “so damaging to tourism”. He says: “The numbers from 2019 showed that over two million people visited distilleries in Scotland to spend £65m in the gift shops. Part of the proposal is that there would be no branded merchandise at all, not even a T-shirt or keyring.” This would have a knock-on effect to those who include the selling of merchandise as a big part of their business.

Electric Spirit Co is one company that would see the effects of this, as around 150 people participate in its Zwift cycling online, representing and using its own branding to do so, while it also sells real-world kit.

James Porteous, founder of Electric Spirits Co, says: “If the restrictions come in, then we wouldn’t be able to do any of that. A large number of our riders are based in Scotland, we couldn’t be associated with a sporting team, we couldn’t have the kit for sale to people who live in Scotland, it would basically wipe out the option of being able to do that. Which is kind of ironic, considering we’re talking about methods to make the population healthier, and it would prevent us from pushing one of the things we do that is very positive in terms of both physical and mental health.”

The consultation calls for people to submit their views and Bowman notes: “The consultation is really biased towards this kind of anti-alcohol position. The first answer you have to submit is ‘please indicate any direct or indirect links to the alcohol industry’, which is incredibly biased.”

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