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15/04/2011

FIN: A long way in Finland to restrict alcohol marketing – and still some miles to go

Source: raitis.fi 03/09/11

9 March 2011. The Finnish Parliament has been discussing alcohol marketing restrictions since 2008. While hopes were high, march 2011 saw a disappointing conclusion to this discussion when Minister of Health and Social Services Risikko ignored a parliamentary initiative and instead proposed an ineffective and vague Government's Act. In reaction to this 11 health and social organisations now demand that the next government will ban all alcohol marketing as such.

In December 2008 the Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee was renewing the law on alcohol crimes. The committee started a discussion on banning the lifestyle or image marketing of alcohol. The chair of this committee was Mrs. Heidi Hautala (now a MEP), a member of the Greens Party and a well experienced and respected politician. The Finnish Parliament enacted changes concerning alcohol crimes in June 2009. At the same time, Parliament also required that the Government investigates by the end of the spring term 2010 the impact of the latest changes on the alcohol law (made in 2007) and evaluates the need for additional measures concerning lifestyle or image marketing.

In September 2009, a working group was set up by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. There were nine members, out of which four represented the alcohol-related business life. The task of the group was extended from alcohol marketing to also evaluating measures on how to decrease drinking by youngsters.
The working group held a public hearing in February 2010, which turned out to be unexpectedly popular.

Present in the hearing were several organisations, public health actors as well as citizens who required that alcohol marketing should be restricted effectively. The alcohol industry and marketers were also present.

The working group finished its work 3rd of June and published a memo, in which it did not recommend any changes to the alcohol marketing law. In the conclusions and recommendations it only made vague suggestions on how to decrease the drinking of young people (for example Finland has to be active in the international discussion on alcohol marketing, more education and self-regulation is needed as well as other corporate responsibility actions, media reading skills need to be taught to youngsters). The members of the working group, who represented the public sector or organisations, gave opposing opinions. Also, two of the three statements, given by the consultants of the working group, were critical.

Citations from the opposing opinions and consultant´s statements:

The material which has been given to the working group, clearly states that alcohol marketing has a clear connection to consumption of alcohol
As an outsider, I could not help from seeing, that the group worked with beforehand agenda pleasing the majority... the greatest and most serious lack in the memo of the working group is that the adult desicionmakers were not able to give the lawmakers a concrete suggestion how to protect the health and wellbeing of children.
The material given by the industry includes unexpectedly large amounts of twisted research results...The activity of this working group raises a serious concern on the leadership and authority of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. And also of its grip in its own field in alcohol policy.

The memo was sent for commenting to various actors from the social and health field to the industry. For example, the Ministry of Education and Culture as well as the Consumer Agency commented that in the composition of the working group the economic interests were more emphasized than the interests of the wellbeing of children. In general, public authorities and health and social organisations were very critical in pointing out that the outcome of the working group was illogical, strange, shocking, and contradictory.

They pointed out that the current goals of policy programmes, scientific proofs, verdict of experts and civil servants as well as public opinion were completely ignored. The actors of business life were in general quite satisfied by the outcome of the working group, and considered it a success from the point of view of liberty of speech and from European regulation standards. They also welcomed alcohol policy where all parties, including industry, can work together.

In July 2010, 106 out of 200 members of the Finnish Parliament representing all political parties signed a law initiative, where lifestyle or image marketing was banned. In the law initiative there was a list of things which would be allowed in alcohol marketing allowing only product and price information. The Finnish Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi stated in the press that she was also in favour of restricting alcohol marketing to product and price information.

As a result of the law initiative a new working group of public authorities and academics was established in October 2010 by Minister Risikko. The verdict of this working group was in favour of the law initiative: ban lifestyle marketing and only allow product and price information.

In February 2011 Minister Risikko gave her proposal for a Government's Act. But this was very different from the initiative made in Parliament. In the minister's proposal there was only a prolonged watershed on television from 9 in the evening until 11 pm. The watershed would also be extended to radio. There were also vague additional specifications to current regulations where marketing would be banned and which elements would be banned. Also, this proposed Act was sent to various actors for comments. Hardly any of the comments were supporting this proposal. Public actors regarded it too vague, and the industry stated it to be unreasonable and disproportionate. Many of the public health actors stated that they were in favour of the law initiative made in Parliament where only product information would be allowed.

Minister Risikko has commented several times in the press, that she wants to protect youth and children from the harms of alcohol ads. She has stated that she is sorry that there most probably will not be a change in the law during this parliament. She says the reason is that there was no consensus on how to change the law. What is not mentioned is that her proposed Act included only cosmetic changes and the initiative from Parliament included an effective change in the content of alcohol ads.

Finnish media has been active in following the process of alcohol marketing. More and more often the impact of alcohol marketing as well as the influence of the industry on politics is mentioned in the media.

The Government's decision was announced the 1st of March 2011. There will not be any new restrictions to alcohol marketing under this Government. The next parliamentary elections will be held on the 17th of April 2011.

As the demand this partial alcohol marketing appealed to be difficult, 11 health and social organisations (including for example Finnish Medical Association and Cancer Society for Finland) now demand that the next government will ban all alcohol marketing as such.

Interestingly, at the same time as this national political battle has been going on, Helsinki, the capital of Finland, is planning to restrict outdoor marketing of alcohol. The restriction is now being discussed in the decision-making bodies of Helsinki.