Alcohol lobby ‘stronger than public health law’, says French minister

Joseph Bamat, FRANCE 24 | French Health Minister Marisol Touraine speaks to reporters in Paris on June 16, 2015

A decades-old law preventing product placement of alcoholic beverages in France could soon be repealed, Health Minister Marisol Touraine warned on Tuesday, adding that the country was in “denial” about alcoholism levels.


Touraine expressed dismay at efforts by lawmakers from the conservative opposition, as well as from her own ruling Socialist Party, to unravel the so-called Evin Law, which prevents “disguised” advertising of tobacco and alcohol products in the media, and bans alcohol brands from sponsoring sporting events.

Last week France’s lower-house National Assembly approved a Senate amendment that would change the Evin Law, allowing the amendment to be attached to an economic reform law that Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron is trying to pilot through parliament.

“The current debate is completely crazy. I’m not demanding that the law be stricter, only to leave it alone. And I don’t know if I’ll succeed because the wine and alcohol lobby in France is stronger that the public health lobby,” Touraine told FRANCE 24.

The minister, who has also come under fire for championing other health reforms, including the way doctors bill patients, rejected the notion that alcohol advertisement was banned in a country whose image abroad is closely tied with wine production and other distilled beverages.

“There isn’t a single magazine out this week that doesn’t feature an article related to wines or other alcohols,” Touraine said, pointing to numerous examples in leading dailies and weeklies. “In France we can definitely talk about, communicate and promote wines.”

“The Evin Law has been around for 25 years. During that time I have not seen the exportation of French wines decline, I have not seen France’s wine market deteriorate,” she insisted.

‘Protecting’ ancestral tradition

The amendment to uncork France’s law limiting alcohol advertisement was introduced by Senator Gérard César, a member of the conservative Les Républicains party and a winemaker by profession, but it has easily found support across the political aisle.

Supporters of the amendment said it would help safeguard France’s “ancestral wine culture”, and help boost one of France’s key industries as the country struggles to find the road to economic recovery.

President François Hollande has backed Touraine on the issue, urging lawmakers to “preserve” the Evin Law. This week the government said it would add its own amendment to “clarify” the existing text, and to avoid certain legal cases that could arise from a certain interpretation of the law.

France in denial

According to French government figures, 50,000 people die of alcohol-related diseases and accidents each year in a country that ranks third in alcohol consumption among the OECD group of industrialised nations. Only Austria and Estonia ranked higher, according to the latest available data from the OECD.

“There is a kind of denial [about alcohol abuse],” Touraine said, pointing out that the average person in France consumes an equivalent of 120 bottles of wine per year.

The French minister said that France’s healthcare system was very good at curing all types of ailments, but still had much progress to make when it comes to public health policies aimed at preventing disease and activities that carry health risks.

“Everyone is always repeating ‘we need to focus on prevention, we need to focus on prevention’, but the day we say that prevention perhaps includes limiting alcohol advertising, the room goes silent,” Touraine lamented.

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