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MEPs call on the European Commission to protect minors from alcohol advertising

In its May Plenary session the European Parliament voted on the report examining the implementation of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) -Piotr Borys (PL, EPP; own initiative report (2012/21329INI)).

As we reported back in February some of the MEPs have kindly submitted amendments, addressing the ineffectiveness of self- regulatory codes in relation to alcohol marketing, especially regarding protection of minors. Unfortunately, these amendments were all rejected in the CULT Committee vote.

However, the final version of the report does acknowledge the problems of alcohol marketing.

The rapporteur in his explanatory statement attached particular importance to the issue of protection of minors, since minors are most exposed to the dangers arising, in particular, from commercial communications. He particularly highlighted advertisements for alcoholic beverages, unhealthy products or advertisements encouraging particular consumption patterns.

The report further calls on the European Commission to update in 2013 its interpretative Communication on television advertising to take account of experience gained under the EU Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, and the EU Alcohol and Health Forum.

Furthermore, opinion of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs prepared by MEP Cornelis de Jong calls on the European Commission to investigate better methods of regulating alcohol advertising, as self-regulatory codes are not sufficient to protect minors effectively.

Currently, most of the regulation of marketing in the EU is through self- regulatory codes, indeed Article 4 (7) of AVMSD encourages self- regulation and co-regulation; these have a number of substantial shortcomings and are not sufficiently effective to protect minors from exposure to alcohol marketing.

For instance in the AVMSD Directive Article 9 (e) states that: audiovisual commercial communication for alcoholic beverages shall not be aimed specifically at minors and shall not encourage immoderate consumption of such beverages. However, in practice this provision provides a loophole for advertisers, who create marketing that appeal to both young people as well as adults. Therefore, they are advertising their products to minors while in theory complying with EU law requirements.

Another shortcoming is that majority self-regulatory codes propose a 30% or 25% threshold. This threshold prohibits alcohol advertising if the audience consists of more than 25% or 30% of minors. In practice these thresholds do not seem to be able to protect minors from being shielded from alcohol adverts. For example a football match might have only 6% of audience aged 13-15 but the exposure in absolute numbers of young people watching is significant.

In 2009, the Science Group of the European Alcohol and Health Forum produced a reportwhich reviewed a number of studies regarding impact of marketing on the volume and patterns of drinking alcohol. It concluded that alcohol marketing increases the likelihood that young people will start to drink alcohol, and that among those who have started to drink, marketing increases the their drinking levels in terms of both amount and frequency. Alarmingly 43% among 15-16 year old European students reported heavy binge drinking during the past 30 days and alcohol is the single biggest cause of death among young men of age 16 to 24 (ESPAD, 2011)

Eurocare is firmly convinced that European provisions in the area of Audiovisual Media Services should reflect these issues and encourage better regulation of alcohol marketing which reaches minors.