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01/03/2008

Written question E-6440/07 by Dorette Corbey (PSE) /Answer given by Ms Reding

Written question E-6440/07 by Dorette Corbey (PSE) to the Commission on Alcohol Advertising:

The alcohol consumption of young people is increasing. Some 25% of mortality among young men aged between 15 and 29 is related to alcohol consumption. In the case of young women, the corresponding figure is 10%. There is growing evidence that consuming alcohol damages the development of young people's brains. One EU measure consists of restricting advertising aimed at young people. Rightly so, because research shows that young people are influenced by the advertising of alcohol. Article 15 of the Television Without Frontiers Directive (89/552/EEC[1]) lays down, inter alia, that advertising for alcoholic beverages must not be aimed specifically at minors and must not create the impression that the consumption of alcohol contributes towards social or sexual success or enhanced physical performance. In the Netherlands, Directive 89/552/EEC has been transposed by means of the Advertising Code for Alcoholic Beverages. Moreover, in June 2001 the European Council recommended that Member States should guarantee that alcoholic beverages were not designed or promoted in such a way as to encourage alcohol consumption among young people.

In the Netherlands, complaints have regularly been lodged about advertisements. Many concern advertisements which associate drinking alcohol with social success ('Would you like a beer?') and/or sexual success (Martini baby). See the attached report, 'Alcoholreclame aangeklaagd' [Complaints about alcohol advertising]. However, these advertisements were not officially deemed to contravene the Advertising Code.

1. What is the Commission's view of the effectiveness of the Advertising Code for Alcoholic Beverages, bearing in mind that in most cases advertisements have not been found to be contrary to the Code, despite references to social or sexual success?

2. What steps will the Commission take to ensure proper compliance?

3. In the Commission's opinion, have sweetened alcoholic drinks been designed to encourage young people to drink alcohol?

4. Will the Commission propose legislation to require producers of these beverages to place warnings on the labels to alert people to the fact that alcohol consumption can seriously damage young people? If not, why not?

Answer given by Ms Reding, Commissioner for Information Society and Media (Date: 19.2.2008)

1-2. Article 15 of Directive 89/552/EEC[1] lays down rules concerning television advertising for alcoholic beverages. In particular, it specifies that advertising must not give the impression that the consumption of alcohol contributes to social or sexual success[2]. The Commission would inform the Honourable Member that the Member States, including the Netherlands, are required by their own legislation to have appropriate and effective mechanisms in place to ensure that those rules are adhered to by the broadcasting organisations within their jurisdiction. If, as the Honourable Member suggests, complaints about advertisements which associate drinking alcohol with social or sexual success are systematically rejected, it would be legitimate to question the effectiveness of the measures in place in the Netherlands to ensure compliance with the Directive. However, the Commission would stress that it currently has no reason to harbour such doubts or to believe that the Netherlands is failing to fulfil its obligations. The Commission will ask the Dutch authorities to submit their observations on the issues raised by the Honourable Member. It will then consider whether there are grounds for instituting infringement proceedings against the Netherlands under Article 226 of the Treaty to secure compliance by the latter with its obligations under Community law – if necessary, by referring the matter to the Court of Justice.

3-4. Regarding part 3 of the Honourable Member's question, the Commission's Communication on an EU Strategy to support Member States in reducing Alcohol-related Harm[3] identifies the protection of young people, children and the unborn child as a key priority. Policies aimed at reducing alcohol-related harm among young people have in recent years been driven by concerns over 'alcopops', a new category of sweetened, often brightly-coloured and carbonated drinks containing around 5% alcohol. While the Commission is not in a position to speculate what the intentions of the designers of these drinks have been, it appears that alcopops particularly appeal to young people. As the Communication points out, some Member States have introduced special labelling and/or increased taxes on products such as alcopops which they perceive to be particularly attractive to under age drinkers, and these measures appear to have reduced alcopops consumption. Possible substitution movements (from spirits-based alcopops to pre-mixed drinks on beer or wine basis) need to be carefully analysed in this context.

Finally, as far as the last part of the question is concerned, the Commission would like to remind the Honourable Member of the fact that the above Communication states that the Commission does not intend, as a consequence of this Communication, to propose the development of harmonised legislation in the field of the prevention of alcohol-related harm. However, in the Communication the Commission commits itself to explore, in cooperation with Member States and stakeholders, the usefulness of developing efficient common approaches throughout the Community to provide adequate consumer information. Such reflections are particularly important as some Member States are planning to introduce warning labels (e. g. on alcohol and pregnancy), and as more generally there is an ongoing discussion about best practice in consumer education.

In a broader context, the Commission will work with stakeholders to create sustained momentum for cooperation on responsible commercial communication and sales. The main aim will be to support EU and national/local Government actions to prevent irresponsible marketing of alcoholic beverages. As part of this approach, the impact of self-regulatory codes on young people's drinking and industry compliance with such codes will also be monitored.

The Commission will in particular use the new European Alcohol and Health Forum to develop with all relevant stakeholders concrete actions - at European, national and local levels – aimed at reducing alcohol-related harm among children and young people. It is noteworthy that the two Task Forces established right at the launch of the Forum (on Youth-specific aspects of Alcohol, and on Marketing/Communication) will both deal with the issue invoked by the Honourable Member. Moreover, within the Committee for National Policy and Action on alcohol-related harm, the Commission will work with Member States to coordinate and further develop policies in this area.

[1] Council Directive 89/552/EEC of 3 October 1989 on the coordination of certain provisions laid down by Law, Regulation or Administrative Action by Member States concerning the pursuit of television broadcasting activities, OJ L 298, 17.10.1989, as amended by Directive 97/36/EC, OJ L 202, 30.7.1997.

[2] It should be noted that, following the amendment introduced by Directive 2007/65/EC (OJ L 300, 17.11.2007), the providers of on-demand audiovisual media services, which are currently not subject to such rules, will also have to refrain, once the Member States have transposed the new rules into their national legislations, from aiming their commercial audiovisual communications for alcoholic beverages specifically at minors and encouraging the immoderate consumption of such beverages.

[3] COM(2006)625 final.