French government battles wine-growing senator over alcohol ads

Loic Venance, AFP I Archive photo
4 min

For the second time in two months, the French government has rushed to the defence of a law limiting alcohol advertising after it came under fire by a parliamentary amendment proposed by a wine-growing senator.


On Monday, French Health Minister Marisol Touraine urged MPs not to adopt the amendment proposed by Gérard César, a senator from Sarkozy’s Les Républicains party, who is a wine-grower by profession.

She warned that the move would undermine the so-called “Evin Law”, named after former health minister Claude Evin, which controls alcohol and tobacco advertising in France.

Evin himself told French daily Le Parisien that he was “very worried” about the amendment, which he said would give alcohol companies “almost limitless freedom” to advertise, spelling “the death of the law”.

The Evin Law, which was passed in 1991, is surprisingly severe for a country famed for its wine culture, and for a nation that has one of the highest levels of alcohol consumption in the world, according to the OECD.

Under the law, for example, no alcohol advertising is allowed on television or in cinemas and all alcoholic ads must include a message stating that abuse of alcohol is dangerous to one’s health. Moreover, the law bans alcohol companies from sponsoring cultural or sporting events. The latter resulted in a scandal when the Anheuser-Busch brewing company (which makes Budweiser) was not allowed to sponsor the 1998 World Cup, held in France.

The Evin Law was first threatened by a parliamentary amendment two months ago. Senator César’s amendment, which was tabled on Monday, marks the second such attempt this year.

It was added to a controversial economic reform law which is being examined by French lawmakers. The Macron Law named after its chief architect, French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron is meant to peel away layers of red tape that have strangled the country’s economic growth, according to the Wall Street Journal. It has been stirring controversy and heated debates in Parliament for months.

Adressing lawmakers on Monday, Touraine said "the Macron Law shouldn’t serve to unravel public health laws”.

Alcohol lobby

There was also a large outcry from health professionals.

"The entire population, especially young people, would be exposed to uncontrolled advertising promoting alcohol consumption,” a group of health professionals opposed to the law wrote in a letter to French President François Hollande, when the law was first threatened.

These health professionals highlighted that alcohol is one of the major causes of preventable death in France, stating that it is “directly responsible for 49,000 deaths a year.”

They blamed the desire to obliterate the Evin Law on “the alcohol lobby and its parliamentary contacts.“

"This initiative is even more scandalous because spending on ads for alcoholic beverages hasn’t stopped growing and reached 460 million euros in 2011, which is much, much higher than the €3.5 million in credits allotted [by the government] for prevention,” they added.

Evin agreed with health professionals, saying "the powerful ad lobby currently has the controls” and is keen to tap into the "enormous market for [alcohol] advertising, especially for beer and strong alcohol.”

One group of proponents to changes to the Evin Law is the viticulture group in the lower-house National Assembly, led by Socialist MP and wine-grower Catherine Quéré (Charente-Maritime).

The group said the amendment would '"guarantee a clear framework for the survival of our viticulture and for the development of local winemaking projects".

Marine Le Pen, the president of the far-right Front National party, also wants to change existing legislation. She told a gathering of wine-growers from the region of Nièvre in November 2014 that she would be in favor of "getting rid of" the Evin Law, which she said "has zero effectiveness".

Increasing risks

Excessive consumption of alcohol and binge drinking are on the rise among French young people, according to figures published in March 2014 by the National Institute of Prevention and Health Education (l'Institut national de prévention et d'éducation pour la santé -- Inpes).

Half of all young people were drunk at least once in the past year. Moreover, the number of young people who had been drunk at least three times in the past year has almost doubled in the past ten years, going from 15% to 29% in 2015. Many of those are young women.

“These figures justify the need to maintain policy fighting against excessive consumption of alcohol,” the Inpes wrote in its report.

However, according to a study by the OECD, overall levels of alcohol consumption in France have been declining in the past 30 years.


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