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 in taxation.
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 events.
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 2004.
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 (billposting, 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 advertising.
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 disproportionate.
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 isencouraging 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