THERE is “no robust evidence” in favour of a ban on alcohol advertising, a report has insisted.

The Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) think tank released its paper after First Minister Humza Yousaf pledged to go “back to the drawing board” after an outcry from the drinks industry over previous proposals to curb alcohol advertising in Scotland.

The Scottish Government had previously been consulting on plans which would have barred drinks firms from sponsoring sport and live events, and which would have prevented distillery and brewery shops from selling branded merchandise to visitors.

When he took over as Scottish First Minister, Yousaf said he backed the aim of the measures “to reduce the harm caused by alcohol to children”, but accepted that they had caused “real concern”.

As a result he said he had instructed Scottish Government staff to “take these ideas back to the drawing board, work with the industry, and crucially with public health stakeholders, to agree a new set of proposals”.

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The IEA paper set out to examine the “empirical evidence” for alcohol advertising bans.

And while it said public health campaigners “claim that a ban on alcohol advertising would reduce alcohol-related harm”, the report stated: “There is no robust evidence in favour of alcohol advertising bans.

“Banning alcohol advertising should not be presented as an evidence-based policy.”

The report said a small number of studies looking specifically at the impact of alcohol advertising bans had “produced mixed results”, but insisted that majority had “found no impact on aggregate sales”.

The report cited a review in 2014 which it said was “widely considered the ‘gold standard’ of evidence in health policy” as having found there is “currently a lack of robust evidence for or against recommending the implementation of alcohol advertising restrictions”.

It noted that spending on alcohol advertising in the US rose by nearly 400% in real terms between 1971 and 2012, but said that there was “little change in per capita alcohol consumption” over this period.

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It added that countries including France, Russia, Sweden, Finland and Norway had “heavy restrictions on alcohol advertising” but said that “when economists have studied alcohol advertising bans, they have mostly found no impact on overall alcohol consumption”.

Alcohol companies advertise in a bid to attract customers from their rivals and keep their own customers, the report added.

And it said: “It is surprising that politicians, of all people, sometimes fail to understand this. Their own advertising during elections is aimed at getting voters to switch from one party to another.”

Report author and head of lifestyle economics at the IEA, Christopher Snowdon, said: “The claim that banning alcohol advertising would reduce the amount of alcohol-related harm in society has remarkably little evidence to support it.

“Advertising affects the market share of individual brands, but the amount of money spent on alcohol advertising has no effect on alcohol consumption overall.

“This is how advertising works in every other mature market, and it would be a surprise if alcohol were any different.”

Snowdon added: “Strident claims from anti-alcohol campaigners about advertising should be taken with a pinch of salt.

“This evidence review found that only a few high-quality studies have looked at this issue, and the evidence is, at best, mixed.

“A ban on alcohol advertising would certainly not be an evidence-based policy.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “As the First Minister has said, he wholeheartedly supports the aims of the recent consultation on alcohol advertising – particularly to reduce the harm caused by alcohol to young people – but is keen to take a fresh look at the issue, balancing that aim with careful consideration of the impact restrictions may have on business.”