The Portman Group

Nutrition & Food Science

ISSN: 0034-6659

Article publication date: 1 December 1999



(1999), "The Portman Group", Nutrition & Food Science, Vol. 99 No. 6.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 1999, MCB UP Limited

The Portman Group

The Portman Group was established ten years ago in 1989 as an initiative by the alcoholic drinks industry to combat alcohol misuse.

The current member companies - Allied Domecq, Bacardi-Martini, Bass, Campbell Distillers, Pernod-Ricard, Diageo, HP Bulmer, Scottish & Newcastle, Seagram and Whitbread - represent all aspects of the drinks trade with brewers, distillers, cider makers and vintners, interests in the production, distribution and retail sectors and outlets in both the on and off trade.

These nine companies, together, fund The Portman Group in all its work.

The decade since the establishment of The Portman Group has seen many social changes and these, in turn, have led to many differing demands on the services provided by the group in dealing with the social aspects of alcohol.

The huge demand for The Portman Group's popular "Prove-it" proof of age card reflects one such move. The card has been issued to between 400,000 and 500,000 over-18-year-olds as more and more licensees realise that there is a more effective way of checking whether their customers are seeking to buy alcohol legally.

With the continuing absence of a Government-run national ID card scheme and a growth in the importance attached to responsible retailing, many other locally-based ID card schemes have emerged and, with the launch in 1998 of the new-style photocard driving licence now leading to its increasing availability, a routine request for ID, when there is any doubt, should not unduly inconvenience any legitimate customer.

The Portman Group is also backing current moves for the law to be tightened on test purchasing, the use by police or trading standards officers of carefully supervised children, attempting to see whether retailers are prepared to sell to children clearly under 18. This method has been used effectively for some time for other products including fireworks, lottery tickets and tobacco, but cannot at present be used for alcohol. Together with the hoped-for outlawing in England and Wales of "proxy purchase", adults knowingly buying alcohol for children, a practice already an offence in Scotland, this will help weed out the tiny minority of rogue elements in the licensed trade and the public who continue to be prepared to ignore common sense.

One of the most visible areas of Portman Group activity has for some time been in drink-driving, perhaps the area of alcohol misuse which is most unacceptable to the general public. Our campaigns have complemented the efforts of the Government and others in helping to dramatically drive down the toll of death and injury caused by drink-driving.

The group's latest campaign, "If you drink let others drive", has appeared everywhere from the press, on posters, buses and taxis, in pubs and clubs, football programmes, in signage on police cars and it has even featured its own art competition! It is perhaps the most encouraging pointer that an anti-misuse campaign can catch the attention of the public.

But the campaigning does not stop there. The Portman Group backs up the Government's sensible drinking message with its national "2f3m4" campaign, designed to get the message across that the Government recommends no more than two to three units of alcohol for women (2f3) and no more than three to four units per day for men (3m4) in order to draw the health benefits of alcohol without risking the disbenefits. These daily benchmarks replaced the old weekly limits in 1996 in an effort to make clearer the message that daily intakes could not be "rolled over" and left for a weekend bingeing session. Awareness of the daily benchmarks is growing quickly and significantly and, despite doom-laden headlines, the vast majority of the UK public drink well within the recommended levels.

In education too The Portman Group is active, producing a wide range of free resource material for primary and secondary schools as well as funding local initiatives which bring alcohol education to children through theatre in education projects and youth access schemes. Together with the Princes Trust it is spreading this project aid further reaching more and more young people with balanced information about the use and misuse of alcohol to enable them to make informed decisions when they come to choose how, when and whether to use alcohol.

One word that many people come up with when The Portman Group is mentioned tends to be "alcopop" and, indeed, it was involved heavily in the follow-up to the media frenzy which surrounded alcopops in 1996. The initiative was grabbed firmly by the group with the introduction later that year of the self-regulatory Code of Practice on the naming, packaging and marketing of alcoholic drinks. The code was further strengthened in 1997 and through its Independent Complaints Panel, Pre-launch Advisory Service and enforcement regime is now equipped to deal very effectively with any alcoholic drink product that primarily appeals to those under 18 through its naming or labelling or indeed over-emphasises its alcoholic strength, implies sexual prowess or alludes to drug culture. The level of respect it receives from the industry is marked by the speed with which products about which complaints have been upheld have been withdrawn or amended.

The code has drawn praise from the Office of Fair Trading and the Ministerial Group on Under-age Alcohol Misuse for its independence and its effectiveness and has been copied by many countries overseas. With over 130 companies in both the retail and production sectors now committed to the code as signatories, its coverage is all but universal. The effects of this are obvious - the number of complaints are continuing to fall as more and more companies seek advice before products are launched.

So, then, after its first decade does The Portman Group believe that its work has been worthwhile?:

We believe that with more and more accurate information, most people will choose a sensible course. By continuing to make information available where and when the public need it and want it, in schools, shops, youth clubs, libraries, pubs, the media or now even on our own Website we can help to reduce alcohol misuse. The first ten years have been challenging, the next ten will be more challenging still.

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