Cracks in policy

Whisky tourism safe from promotion ban, says FM

Johnnie-Walker-Princes Street
Johnnie Walker signage will not have to be concealed (pic: Terry Murden)

Drinks firms will not be forced to conceal their signage as part of a clampdown on the promotion of alcohol said Nicola Sturgeon in the first sign of an easing in the government’s heavily-criticised plans.

They include banning alcohol sponsorship for sports and other live events, as well as on billboards.

The industry has expressed concern that events sponsored by alcohol brands could not be promoted and that even signage would be barred.

It has been suggested that major tourist attractions such as the Johnnie Walker Experience in Edinburgh’s Princes Street would have to cover up its window displays. Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, had suggested earlier this week that signage would be targeted.

The plan is designed to tackle the nation’s “deep, longstanding and troubled relationship with alcohol” and make it less likely that children will be exposed to drinks advertising.

A consultation ends next month, but yesterday the First Minister stepped in to rule out some of the more contentious suggestions.

During a debate in the Scottish parliament, Conservative member Murdo Fraser said: “The whisky tourism sector is worth some £84 million annually to the Scottish economy and it supports jobs in rural and remote communities where there are few other opportunities.

“I agree with the first minister that we need to look at sensible measures to tackle alcohol abuse, but does she agree it would be absurd if whisky distilleries . . . had to cover up all their signage, close their shops and stop promoting tours, and the likes of the Johnnie Walker experience in Edinburgh, which is a tremendous tourism draw, had to rebrand itself and board up its windows?”

Ms Sturgeon replied: “Yes, to be clear I do agree with that. The whisky tourism sector is extremely important to Scotland’s reputation, as well as to its economy.

“The Johnnie Walker experience centre here in Edinburgh is a prime example of that. In relation to the suggestion that we have heard in recent weeks that painted signs on distilleries or visitor centres would be the target, I make it very clear that those are not in our current thinking.

“In my initial answer, I mentioned the exposure of children to alcohol advertising. There is a world of difference between a billboard outside or in the vicinity of a school and, for example, a Johnnie Walker baseball cap.”

Ms Sturgeon agreed to consider the issue “properly and pragmatically” and hoped the sector would be reassured by her comments.

In the Commons, former Scottish Secretary David Mundell said the restrictions would not only “cost jobs in Scotland, it will make it much more difficult for the industry to export to the EU and elsewhere”.

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