Company: Carlsberg UK
Final Decision: 16 May 2008
Considered under the 4th Edition of the Code.
“Anyone consuming the content of a can of 500ml super-strength lager is drinking 4.5 units of alcohol and is exceeding the government’s suggested safe-drinking limits. Our contention is therefore that, by producing alcohol of this strength in 500ml cans, the producers are infringing the Code of Practice under 3.2 (f) by encouraging immoderate consumption and encouraging binge drinking and drunkenness. Clearly, the fact that the cans are not re-sealable indicates that the expectation is that the contents of the can must be drunk within a limited time-period and cannot be stored to be consumed at a later date. Furthermore, the reality is these drinks are not shared between people and are almost always drunk by a single individual”.
Under Code paragraph 3.2(f)
A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way encourage illegal, irresponsible or immoderate consumption, such as drink-driving, binge-drinking or drunkenness.
The company’s submission
The company pointed out that the government’s advice on sensible drinking was expressed as guidelines rather than strict limits and that these guidelines stated that men should not regularly exceed 3 to 4 units of alcohol a day. They also pointed out that lower guidelines existed for women and argued that this cast even more doubt on the wisdom of using the government guidelines to determine packaging size. The company considered that the complaint was based on the assumption that consumers’ drinking behaviour was controlled by pack size, pack type and its ease of re-sealing; they disputed that this was the case. They asserted that containers with less alcohol were often drunk in multiples resulting in excess consumption. They further noted that a number of drinks containers had considerably more than four units of alcohol and in some cases, corked bottles of wine for example, these containers were not designed to be re-sealed. They pointed out that their packaging clearly indicated that the product contained 4.5 units of alcohol to enable consumers to make informed decisions about their drinking behaviour. They disputed that the intent of the Code was to regulate well-established packaging sizes.
The Panel’s assessment
The Panel agreed that the phrasing of the government’s advice raised questions over the rationality of treating four units of alcohol as a threshold of responsibility. They also considered it was difficult to make a reasonable and objective distinction on responsibility grounds between a can of strong lager and other types of drinks container holding in excess of four units. While acknowledging the complainant’s concern, the Panel concluded that using the Code to restrict container size in this way was inappropriate and liable to lead to inconsistencies. The Panel therefore decided to not uphold the complaint.
Action by company
No action required.