Self-regulation works: Future proofing our Code of Practice to drive up standards and reflect industry change


The charge often levelled at self-regulation is that it’s somehow compromised by its very nature. Yet the day-to-day reality of regulation on a statutory footing is that it would be slower and less efficient than the current system and would undoubtedly stifle creativity and damage UK business. The drinks industry has proved that it takes social responsibility seriously; removing over one billion units of alcohol from the UK market and supporting local partnership initiatives to reduce alcohol harm across the country.  

The launch of our fifth review to update and future proof the Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks demonstrates that our regulation is able to move with the times. There is an ever-evolving marketing landscape and we also live in a world of changing perceptions and societal shifts.

That’s why we are focusing on how to tackle the biggest issues facing the industry.  We are asking if it’s time for a new rule on offence on the grounds of sex, race or religion. While the vast majority of the industry markets their products responsibly, a new rule would clamp down on the minority who do not. 

With the introduction of the Chief Medical Officers’ new Guidelines came a shift to weekly rather than daily unit consumption guidance. As a result of this, we lost a long-established reference point for determining immoderate consumption. A key area of focus for us is in the consultation is to gauge opinion on a new and credible definition.

Protecting the most vulnerable in society should always be at the forefront of the work of any regulator. The Code already prevents alcohol being promoted to under 18’s, on the basis of its high strength or as a coping mechanism. We are asking if we should write into the Code guidance specific protections for those that are mentally or socially vulnerable. While we are content that the majority of time the right people are protected, it is only right that we challenge ourselves to see if there is more we can do to ensure this is the case all of the time.

Other areas we have focused on in the consultation are strengthening the code to prohibit direct or indirect links with alcohol and illegal activity. Looking at further powers for the Code to rule against suggestions that alcohol consumption will impact on mental or physical capabilities is another area where we would invite views.

Whether you are a producer, retailer, charity or health professional, we want to hear your thoughts and opinions on these proposals and on anything else that you think the Code should capture. Keeping the Code responsive to changes, while also challenging producers to achieve the highest standards of social responsibility, is at the heart of what we do and is critical to ensuring that self-regulation continues to deliver the right outcomes.

John Timothy, Portman Group CEO