The Marin Institute has attacked alcohol companies in the US for failing to provide an adequate complaint system for advertising in the country.

The California-based alcohol industry watchdog, which is majority-funded by the charitable organisation the Buck Trust, claimed yesterday (17 September) that self-regulation by drinks companies in the country was "broken". The current system "fails to protect the public from irresponsible marketing practices," the body noted, following its examination of the seven 'Code of Responsible Marketing Practices' reports issued by the Distilled Spirits Council of the US (DISCUS) between 2004 and 2007.

The conclusions were made in a report entitled 'Why Big Alcohol Can't Police Itself: A Review of Advertising Self-Regulation in the Distilled Spirits Industry".

Alcohol companies with a representative on the DISCUS board had a three times lower chance of their advert being found in violation, the institute claimed, noting that the "worst repeat offender brands" were Skyy Vodka and Svedka Vodka, while the "worst repeat offender companies" were Diageo and Campari.

"This is the quintessential example of the fox guarding the hen house," said Michele Simon, research and policy director for the Marin Institute and co-author of the report. "If the alcohol industry were serious about protecting our youth from irresponsible advertising, companies would work with government to implement an enforceable system with meaningful penalties to prevent violations in the first place."

Between 2004 and 2007, the institute claimed, DISCUS received 93 complaints regarding drinks adverts, "indicating that the public is largely unaware of the complaint process".

"It's time to set-up a truly independent, third-party review body, with sufficient funding to increase public awareness, along with enforcement power to pull offending ads and levy significant fines and other penalties," Simon added.

A year ago, the Marin Institute released a report claiming that the alcohol industry in the US was targeting young drinkers in its marketing of alcoholic energy drinks.