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Alcohol advertising in the European Union

There are a variety of national restrictions and controls across Europe and mixtures of the statutory and the self-regulatory marketing systems. In terms of EU-wide legislation, this began with the Television Without Frontiers Directive (TWF) which was originally issued in 1989, has been incorporated into national laws. This was designed to harmonise regulations so that cross border transmissions would not contravene national regulations.

The current EU Directive 2010/13/EU on the coordination of laws and regulations concerning the provision of audio visual media, sets out criteria that television advertising of alcohol must comply with. These include that the advertising must not be aimed at minors or depict minors drinking; it must not link alcohol with enhanced physical, sexual or social performance; and it must not encourage immoderate consumption.

However, levels of regulation of marketing vary between Member States. A WHO European Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2010 identified 3 WHO European Region countries that had no legally binding regulations of any kind for alcohol advertising, while 14 countries had no legally binding regulations for product placement.

The main features of national regulations are summarised below.[1]

The ELSA Project

The ELSA Project (Enforcement of National Laws and Self-regulation in Advertising and Marketing of Alcohol), a two-year project funded by the European Commission, examined the enforcement of national laws and regulations in all EU member states, the applicant countries and Norway.[2] The main conclusions of the study were:

  1. Alcohol advertisements are related to positive attitudes and beliefs about alcohol amongst young people, and increase the likelihood of young people starting to drink, the amount they drink, and the amount they drink on any one occasion
  2. There is no available scientific evidence which shows that the non-statutory regulation of commercial communications impacts on the content or volume of advertisements
  3. There is great variety in regulations related to the advertisement of alcoholic products in the European Member States
  4. There is very little documentation on adherence to the existing regulations
  5. The most appealing alcoholic beverages and alcohol advertisements to young people use elements associated with youth culture
  6. There is no informative body which systematically monitors the impact of regulations on alcohol marketing and its adherence


The main recommendations of the study were:

Article 95(3) of the Treaty of the European Union requires the Commission, in its proposals for the establishment and functioning of the Internal Market concerning health, to take as a base a high level of protection.   An approximation of the European countries’ advertising laws, including statutory regulations and a ban in certain media would protect young people, reduce the risk of dependence and reduce the risk of untimely death, a proposal that is in line with European case law which has noted that it is in fact undeniable that advertising acts as an encouragement to consumption and that restrictions on the volume of advertising are appropriate to protect public health.

  1. Europe-wide and country-based policy on alcohol marketing should address the advertising and promotion of alcohol products through all media and the sponsorship of arts, cultural, musical and sporting events
  2. Europe-wide and country-based policy on alcohol marketing should be based on the scientific evidence of what works, and on public health principles that protect vulnerable populations
  3. In order to protect young people and other vulnerable groups, alcohol marketing restrictions at European and country levels should be strengthened
  4. European and country based regulations on alcohol marketing should be aimed at:

a)    restricting the placement of alcohol marketing to reduce exposure to young people

b)   limiting alcohol marketing that is misleading about the characteristics or effects of alcohol

c)     prohibiting alcohol marketing that appeals to minors and other vulnerable groups

d)    including information that alcohol is not a risk free product

The latter objectives may be realised by restricting marketing to information about the product and only referring to the origin, composition, strength (% alcohol) and means of production.


  1. Statutory agencies, which should operate independently from the alcohol and marketing industries, should be designated responsible for enforcement of marketing restrictions at the country levels to ensure that:

a)    violations do not occur

b)   violations are dealt with as quickly as possible

c)     effective penalties are incurred for violations


  1. The European Union and countries should work together to:

a)    explore agreements and mechanisms to restrict the marketing of alcoholic beverages at the European level, ensuring a standard and equal system across Europe

b)   develop standards based on the best available evidence to reduce exposure and ensure that content does not influence the drinking expectancies and behaviour of young people

c)     develop technologies and other means necessary to regulate cross-border marketing, including the internet and mobile phone use

d)    recognise that countries which have a ban on certain forms of alcohol marketing have the sovereign right to maintain such a ban


  1. Systems at country and European levels should be established to provide sustainable monitoring and surveillance of alcohol marketing including:

a)    documenting and tracking all existing regulations on alcohol marketing practices

b)   monitoring media use and exposure to young people

c)     monitoring young people’s perceptions to alcohol marketing practices

d)    monitoring new technologies and types of media

e)    monitoring cross border marketing

f)      documenting violations of existing regulations


[1] (February 2004), 'Drinks advertising in the European Union'

[2]   Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy [STAP] (October 2007), 'Alcohol Marketing in Europe: Strengthening regulation to protect young people. Conclusions and recommendations of the ELSA project'