The 'Loi Evin': a French exception
Dr Alain Regaud
Dr Michel Craplet
The alcohol policy law, the Loi Evin, was
passed in France in 1991 in order to control the advertising of alcohol
and tobacco. Whilst direct advertising of tobacco had already been
forbidden in France since 1974 (the Loi Veil), the tobacco articles of
the Loi Evin address smoking in public places. Also as regards tobacco,
control policy was further strengthened in 2003 through a sharp increase
The articles on alcohol, on the other
hand, were a new departure which initiated a real change. This law is
relatively severe in a country where the “passion1” for alcohol is intense and where alcohol control has often been lax. How can we explain this real French paradox?
A European-oriented French law
The severity of the law can be understood better in a European
context. Formerly, French law on advertising discriminated against
foreign products which led the Scotch whisky producers to take the
French Government to the European Court of Justice: France was condemned
and was asked to change the law in 1980. A first law was passed in 1985
but the government did not produce a satisfactory text until 1991.
During this ten year period, producers
and advertisers flagrantly used this legal loophole to full advantage.
This situation led the French Parliament to pass the Loi Evin. This
series of events explains why - unlike most European countries - the
advertising of alcohol in France does not depend on self-regulation or
voluntary codes of practice depending on the good will of the producers;
it is controlled by law and illegal advertisements can be brought
before the courts. There are significant penalties for infringement.
Description of the law
The articles relating to alcohol in the Loi Evin may be summarised as follows:
A clear definition of alcoholic drinks is given:
all drinks over 1.2 per cent alcohol by
volume are considered as alcoholic beverages. Places and media where
advertising is authorised are defined:
no advertising should be targeted at young people;
no advertising is allowed on television or in cinemas;
no sponsorship of cultural or sport events is permitted;
advertising is permitted only in the press for adults, on billboards2,
on radio channels (under precise conditions), at special events or
places such as wine fairs, wine museums. When advertising is permitted,
its content is controlled:
- messages and images should refer only
to the qualities of the products such as degree, origin, composition,
means of production, patterns of consumption ;
- a health message must be included on
each advertisement to the effect that “l’abus d’alcool est dangereux
pour la santé” : alcohol abuse is dangerous for health.
Effects of the law on advertising
Since 1991, many advertisements infringing the law have been
condemned by the French courts. Since 1991, more than twenty
advertisements were brought to the courts by the French NGO ANPAA
(Association Nationale de Prévention en Alcoologie et Addictologie) and
eighteen of the adjudications were in our favour. This success story
alarmed the alcohol producers, the advertisers, and media people.
As a consequence, since 1991, a real
change in alcohol advertising is observable: the law has modified the
language of advertising which has lost most of its seductive character.
For example, it is no longer permissible to use images of drinkers or
depict a drinking atmosphere. As a result the drinker has disappeared
from the images which now highlight the product itself3.
The Loi Evin had an important disruptive
side effect in Europe concerning sport. Television retransmission of
several international football matches was cancelled.
Moreover, the law made it impossible for
the American brewer Anheuser Busch to sponsor the 1998 Football World
Cup in France, in spite of heavy lobbying of the French government. It
is important to note that a new sponsor was found in the Casio company.
This example shows that sport does not die without alcohol sponsorship.
Limits of the law
It is regrettable that since 1991 some articles of the law have
been changed: advertising is again permitted on billboards everywhere
(and not only on places of production) and even in sports grounds, but
the ban on television transmission restrains this advertising for major
It is true that some advertisements
illustrating the patterns of consumption are still using a seductive
atmosphere and still link alcohol with “beautiful people”. Nevertheless
the promoters of these advertisements are running quite high legal risks
if the court interprets the law severely. Of course, many marketing
tools can still be used: mailing for middle-aged traditional drinkers or
the Internet for the young looking for anything new and exciting. Even
if official sponsorship is forbidden, alcoholic drinks are central to
many social events such as harvesting, fairs, and, obviously enough, the
launch of Beaujolais Nouveau and so on.
Assessment of the law
The effect of the Loi Evin on alcohol problems has not yet been assessed, and it is probably impossible to do so.
The quantitative effect
It is always difficult to assess the role of individual
factors in the availability of alcohol, such as price, standard of
living, number of sales outlets and advertising, especially as the role
of these factors varies over time.
We know from some scientific studies4
that the effect of advertising on consumption is weak. This is the
reason why alcohol producers and advertisers can argue that advertising
has no influence on overall consumption, that most advertisements are
brand advertising and are therefore, by definition, competitive.
However, the impact of total bans is
what has mostly been studied, and there are few examples of partial bans
having been considered. In addition, their impact has not been assessed
according to age group and socio-economic classes.
The French situation makes this
assessment even more difficult: the effect of the Loi Evin has been
swamped by the general trend towards reduced alcohol consumption in
France. This is a powerful and long running diminution of the average
consumption of 1 per cent per year making it decline dramatically from
30 to 13 litres of pure alcohol per capita per year between 1960 and
The symbolic effect
These quantitative considerations have little importance
compared to the qualitative and symbolic effect. Advertising is used to
strengthen preconceived ideas about alcohol consumption. These ideas
have not been forced on potential consumers, they are instead enshrined
in our cultural background and advertisers only use pre-existing,
conscious and unconscious images.
Whereas the effect on health or
masculinity is theoretically no longer used in the Western world -
having been proscribed by most codes of practice - alcohol consumption
is still very often associated by advertisers with personal, sexual, and
social success. The restrictiveness of the Evin Law was the only way to
change this basic, insinuating, seductive language.
The global effect
The effectiveness of advertising on sales and consumption being
weak - and perhaps not measurable - the regulation of advertising can
only form part of an overall strategy of prevention, the effects of
which on younger generations will not be felt for several decades.
The law has been efficient in correcting
excesses in the form and the content of advertising messages and it is
essential for the implementation of an overall and coherent preventative
effort. Moreover, public health programmes should today address the
topic of all psychoactive products in a global perspective. This is why
we recently developed in France the concept of “addictologie5”.
A law which could be applied in Europe
It is imperative that a European legislative framework covering
the advertising of alcohol be enacted. This need has been recognised by
many organisations for a long time. They have observed the way products
and images of alcohol are transmitted across borders. The
internationalisation of life styles, particularly those of the younger
generation, have been deployed by the multinational drinks industry in
the development of their marketing strategies.
This is why ANPAA and Eurocare are
working together for a European control of advertising. We are not
suggesting that the Loi Evin should be transposed directly into the
wider European context, but we believe that this French experience
should be taken into consideration.
Confronted by various national
circumstances and the opening up of the European Union to new Member
States, it is more appropriate to propose basic measures acceptable to
all, the aim of which is to protect the younger generation.
This is not to make young people
scapegoats where many adults allow themselves to consume alcohol as they
please, whilst at the same time denouncing the spread of alcohol
amongst the younger generation. In fact, these measures will be of help
to the younger generations in their adult life. In order to limit the
influence of advertising on the young, it is important to:
Control forms of communications
(advertising, public relations, sponsorship, patronage) using sporting
and cultural international events.
Forbid all advertisements for alcohol on television.
As far as national events and media
limited to one country are concerned, we suggest giving Member States
the freedom to regulate local advertising (bill posting, radio, cinema,
direct mail). In these fields, cultural characteristics play an
important role, and prevention must take into account such cultural
aspects in order to be acceptable and effective. There remains, of
course, many problems posed by new IT-based communications where the
assertion of liberalism (some would call “laisser-fairism”) would not
favour such restrictions.
A law that cannot be ignored
The Loi Evin has been constantly challenged but these attacks
have not been successful. Many observers noticed the strength of the
law: “The complaints lodged with Brussels by several alcohol producers
against the Evin Law have not been taken up, up to now. The European
Commission has, in fact, concluded that the ban on the sponsorship of
sporting events by alcoholic beverage producers should not be judged
incompatible with Community law… the European Commission has considered
in this instance that the protection of consumers’ health should prevail
over the freedom of the provision of services6”.
In France, these attacks culminated in
2004 with several proposals for new legislation to withdraw wine from
the law. This came after the adjudications of advertisements for
Burgundy and Bordeaux wines, the “stars” of French agriculture and
culture. In an unstable political situation, these proposals are a cause
for concern. On the other hand, it is possible to be cheered by some
good from the EU.
On the 11th March 2004, the Advocate General of the European Union published his opinion7
in the two cases against the Loi Evin before the European Court of
Justice. He asserted that French legislation achieves the objective of
protection of public health.
According to the Advocate General, it is
reasonable to consider that the French measures limiting the advertising
of alcoholic beverages may also reduce instances in which television
viewers consume alcoholic beverages in response to the blandishments of
It is also stated that the mere fact that
another Member State imposes less strict rules concerning advertising
of alcoholic beverages does not mean that the French rules are
The Advocate General proposed that the
Court should rule that neither the directive nor the principle of
freedom to provide services enshrined in the Treaty preclude the
prohibition laid down by French law regarding televised advertising of
alcoholic beverages. It is greatly to be desired that the Court’s
decision will leave the Loi Evin intact because :
the text seems easy to apply and causes
no problems in French courts. When advertising campaigns were submitted
to judges for review, no judgement mentioned the impossibility of using
it, or its lack of clarity, in contrast to previous laws;
the text seems fairly difficult to distort, it limits the boundaries and describes the acceptable content of message and images;
the text allows for information on the products to be given, as is asked by the producers.
Alcohol control policy is encouraging freedom
Despite their reputation, public health experts do not wish to
regulate peoples’ lives nor do they wish to treat them solely as
consumers, unlike alcohol producers whose aim is to impose consumption
levels and who are paradoxically the new “norms givers”.
On the contrary, the philosophy of the
associations promoting prevention is to give citizens back their freedom
of choice regarding products, consumption patterns, and rituals and to
prevent these patterns and rituals becoming bounds which limit freedom.
In addition to technical arguments, some non governmental organisations
such as the French Association Nationale de Prevention en Alcoologie et
Addictologie and the European association Eurocare, have adopted
political and ethical positions, arguing that the EU can no longer
content itself with economic objectives, but that it must become a
social community where the collective interest has priority over
particular economic interests. This collective interest is based on the
fact that alcohol is not a product like any other: as a harmful product
causing addiction, its use must be controlled by the public authorities.
Dr Alain Rigaud is Président
Association Nationale de Prévention en Alcoologie et Addictologie (ANPAA)
Dr Michel Craplet is Medical advisor of ANPAA, chairman of Eurocare
1 As described in the book Passion alcool, Paris, Odile Jacob, 2000
2 The text limited billboard advertising
to the places of production and selling. Later, another law permitted
billboard advertising everywhere.
3 This satisfies the demand of the
producers claiming that advertising is nothing but information. We can
point that the frame given by the law can even stimulate the creativity
of admen by forcing them to forget traditional images and the easy use
of seductive language. Some recent advertising campaigns are indeed very
well done. We can also suppose that highlighting on the product may
have a perverse effect, not on the naïve, young, potential drinker but
on former alcohol abusers or recovering alcoholics seeing again in these beautiful images the myths about drinks that they have to forget
4 Saffer H., Journal of health Economics, 1991 ; 10 ; p.65-79
5 As explained in the text written by A Morel, J-D Favre et A. Rigaud, “Rapprocher l’alcoologie et
l’intervention en toxicomanie”, Alcoologie et Addictologie, 2001; 23 (3): 393-403
6 CB News, 24 - 30 March 1997, n° 473
7 Press release is in No 56/04, 13th July 2004