UK Industry Requires 'Critical' Changes, Say Public Health Bodies

June 16, 2022
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​​​​​​​Gambling in the UK has become increasingly easy to access, glamorised and promoted to a wide audience that includes children, according to representative bodies of public health experts.

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Gambling in the UK has become increasingly easy to access, glamorised and promoted to a wide audience that includes children, according to representative bodies of public health experts.

Greg Fell, vice president of the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH), and Professor Maggie Rae, president of charity Faculty of Public Health’s (FPH) board, outlined several recommendations for the government to consider ahead of the Gambling Act white paper, which is set to be published in the “coming weeks”.

The recommendations were included in an open letter sent on July 14 to Chris Philp MP, the minister in charge of gambling policy, and advocates for a “clearly warranted” public health approach.

“A true public health approach should: prioritise safety; engage with the evidence on the commercial determinants of health and the impacts of conflicts of interest; and protect regulation, science and policymaking from harmful corporate influence,” according to the letter.

The letter is based on the view that the gambling industry has become commercialised and prioritises “intense consumption”, which has resulted in children and young people being exposed to gambling marketing and products.

“It is in the gambling industry’s interest to downplay the risks and the scale of the harm caused by their products and practices, and it benefits from a lack of robust, independent research on the impacts of the industry and gambling policies,” the letter says.

Among a host of recommendations, the ADPH and FPH see sustainable funding of public health measures to address gambling harms as “critical”, arguing that a reliance on funding by voluntary contributions or fines issued by the regulator is “deeply problematic and incommensurate to the burden of harms”.

The ADPH listed five criteria it says any funding system must meet, including a transparent commitment to an agreed proportion of funding to be directly allocated to gambling harm prevention and reduction, as well as a “much stronger role for DHSC in the administration”.

When it comes to advertising, the ADPH said “the assertion that there is no ‘causal proof’ of a direct link between this activity and harm serves as a distraction and undermines productive debate, especially given evidence from other industries”.

Instead, the ADPH argues higher consumption equates to higher harm, meaning the government should act to regulate marketing and promotion in the interests of public health.

On the same day that the open letter was published, Brigid Simmonds, chair of trade group the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), wrote her own op-ed for ConservativeHome, an independent British blog that supports the ruling Conservative Party.

The op-ed focused on what Simmonds referred to on social media as the views of “ordinary people” in Wakefield, an area set for a by-election on June 23, gathered by research agency Public First to conduct focus groups in so-called Red Wall seats.

Several unnamed sources in the piece outline their apparent “passionate defence” of individual rights.

Simmonds concluded that there is a “gulf between ministers and voters on attitudes towards responsible gambling”.

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