A new EU Alcohol Strategy? - European Union Committee Contents



161.  We mentioned in Chapter 1 the diametrically opposing views of the advocates for public health, and those concerned with the manufacture, marketing and advertising of alcoholic drinks. Nothing illustrated this opposition more starkly than the evidence we received on advertising. The Advertising Association, which provides a single voice for the UK advertising industry, went so far as to say in its written evidence: "In fact, the assumption that advertising exposure is even relevant to harm should be challenged—in recent years, there has been an inverse correlation between advertising exposure and levels of consumption." This raises the question of why the industry is prepared to spend £800 million a year on advertising its products.[160]

162.  Ms Eustace gave us one possible reason: "If you are launching a new low-alcohol product, for example, you will be trying to gain market share against other similar products in that sector. You are not looking at growing total consumption. That is not your goal as the company. You are looking at brand share, and you are also looking at promoting the reputation and the value of the brand."[161] But even if this were true, there is still the fact that advertising is seen by young people who are not yet drinking. In the words of Dr Winpenny: "the problem is not really about brand switching if they have not already developed some kind of brand allegiance".[162]


163.  In the United Kingdom, the advertising of alcohol is regulated jointly by OFCOM, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), and the Portman Group. OFCOM is an independent NDPB, funded by the taxpayer, and regulating television sponsorship and advertising. The ASA is funded by the advertising industry, but claims to be "the UK's independent regulator for ensuring that advertising in all media is legal, decent, honest and truthful".[163] It regulates advertising on television, radio, in the press, on posters, in the cinema, by direct mail, and on the internet. It issues Codes of Practice for advertisers to follow, and monitors compliance.

164.  The Portman Group told us that it is "the responsibility body for UK drinks producers. We regulate the promotion and packaging of alcoholic drinks sold or marketed in the UK; challenge and encourage the industry to market its products responsibly; and lead on best practice in alcohol corporate social responsibility."[164] The Portman Group is funded by the drinks industry. Witnesses criticised its Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks for not including any oversight of retailers' approach to alcohol sales. The fact that it is a voluntary code means that, if a complaint is upheld, "there is no sanction available other than a request to address relevant issues".[165]


165.  Guy Parker, the Chief Executive of the ASA, told us that in 2004 the Government looked at all the evidence that was available then, which identified a possible link between younger people's awareness and appreciation of alcohol advertisements and their propensity to drink. In response, in 2005 the UK Advertising Codes administered by the ASA were strengthened by the inclusion of tougher rules on avoiding appeal to under 18 year-olds and on linking alcohol with sexual success. Mr Parker also cited another report commissioned by the Department of Health from ScHARR in 2009, which found that alcohol advertising had a small but consistent effect on alcohol consumption, including by young people.[166] Thus even though the ASA is funded by the advertising industry, its Chief Executive seemed to have no doubt about the correlation between alcohol advertising and the propensity of young people to drink.

166.  This was not the view of the advertisers themselves, as was clear from the evidence we received from them on the RAND report. RAND Europe is a not-for-profit research organisation which was commissioned by the Commission to carry out an assessment of young people's exposure to alcohol marketing through television and online. Its report, Assessment of young people's exposure to alcohol marketing in audiovisual and online media, found that in the UK, young people aged 10-15 were exposed to 11% more alcohol advertising than adults aged 25 years or older, and that television alcohol advertisements containing features considered appealing to youth were more common in the UK than in Germany and the Netherlands.

167.  These findings were strongly contested in written evidence submitted by the Advertising Association, which called upon the European Commission to withdraw the RAND report. The Advertising Association commissioned its own analysis, which claimed that 10-15 year olds in fact see 53% less alcohol advertising than adults, and that RAND's findings on exposure were "the polar opposite to any other data we have seen". This analysis further criticises RAND's data interpretation based on a number of "technical flaws". We took oral evidence from Prof Marteau and Dr Eleanor Winpenny, who were two of the authors of the RAND report, and also from Chris Baker, the consultant commissioned by the Advertising Association to conduct an analysis of the report. The oral opinions expressed were as far apart as the written views, and did little more to enlighten us.

168.  Three of our witnesses from the public health sector—Prof Anderson, Prof Meier, and Prof Hastings—had no doubt about the effect of advertising on harmful drinking, and Prof Hastings summed up their views: "In this field we have a very, very likely interpretation, which just happens to coincide with common sense, that if you market something very actively and seductively and as powerfully as you possibly can, people tend to consume it."[167]

169.  Prof Meier spoke for all three of them about their frustration at the attitude of industry, not just in relation to advertising research but in relation to research generally:

    "All of us have had recent experience, especially with the minimum unit pricing debate. We have had industry critique after industry critique—basically always saying the same thing and not responding to our rebuttals. We have always responded to these industry critiques, but the same points have just been rehashed without making any reference to anything we have said. Often it is misrepresentation of evidence, of methodologies, or picking up on minor inconsistencies that are already corrected in a final version, but then rehashing that same thing."[168]

170.  In 2008 the EAHF commissioned its Science Group "to look in more depth at the diverging points of view on the relationship between marketing and volume of consumption (especially by young persons)".[169] The Science Group analysed a number of studies and concluded that "the overall description of the studies found consistent evidence to demonstrate an impact of advertising on the uptake of drinking among non-drinking people, and increased consumption among their drinking peers." On the other hand Credos, a think-tank created by the Advertising Association in 2010, decided to undertake a "rigorous and fresh review" of this report, which disagreed with its findings, and concluded that "more substantial research will allow conclusions to be drawn based on firm evidence."[170]


171.  Professors Anderson, Meier and Hastings were our first witnesses. At that stage of our inquiry we had not heard oral evidence from the manufacturing, retail or advertising industries. Now that we have done so, we can understand and sympathise with the views of our first witnesses. Industry witnesses were quick to criticise evidence contrary to their interests. They were less adept at putting forward evidence to persuade us of views which seem to us to fly in the face of common sense, such as the supposed inverse correlation between advertising exposure and harm.

172.  In considering this conflicting evidence on the effects of advertising, we believe the view of Mr Acton is probably closest to the truth:

    "We had a systematic review in the UK of the evidence on alcohol advertising, which found good evidence for an impact on adults' alcohol consumption. The effect was quite a small one, but the evidence for it is quite solid. For the impacts on children and young people, we have accepted in our national alcohol strategy that there is good evidence of an impact on children and young people's alcohol consumption from advertising; but there are some important evidence gaps, so we do not have a fully quantified impact. There is very little evidence on effective interventions to restrict advertising. Those are important gaps. Some European research projects have contributed to the knowledge here but there is really a lot more to do, and the EU could play an important role."[171]


173.  In France, advertising of alcohol is regulated, not by self-regulation or voluntary codes of practice, but by a law passed in 1991 and known as the Loi Evin, after the Minister of Health who proposed it.[172] It has since been amended a number of times, but still includes the key prohibitions we list in Box 9.

Box 9: The Loi Evin
·  No advertising to be targeted at young people.

·  No advertising on television (including sporting events which are televised) or in cinemas.

·  No sponsorship of cultural or sport events is permitted.

Advertising is permitted only in the press for adults, on billboards, on radio channels (under precise conditions), at special events or places such as wine fairs and wine museums.

When advertising is permitted, its content is controlled. Messages and images must refer only to the qualities of the products such as degree, origin, composition, means of production, or patterns of consumption.

A health message must be included on each advertisement to the effect that "l'abus d'alcool est dangereux pour la santé" (alcohol abuse is dangerous to health).

174.  The Loi Evin, which applies only in France, means that cultural or sporting events taking place outside France which include alcohol advertisements or sponsorship cannot be shown in France. Foreign teams sponsored by alcohol manufacturers must wear different kits when playing in France.

175.  In 2002 the question of the compatibility of the Loi Evin with EU law came before the CJEU in two related proceedings. The first was a request by the French Cour de Cassation for a preliminary ruling following civil proceedings brought in France by Bacardi.[173] The second was an application by the Commission for a declaration that the Loi Evin was incompatible with what is now Article 56 TFEU on the freedom to provide services, because it prevented the televising in France of sporting events taking place in other Member States if hoardings displayed at those events promoted alcoholic beverages.[174] The United Kingdom Government intervened in support of the Commission.[175] The Court ruled that the law was indeed a restriction on the freedom to provide services, but was justified under the public health exception in what is now Article 52(1) TFEU. The association at sporting events of alcohol with sports persons seen by the young as role models is to be discouraged, and the Loi Evin shows how this can be done compatibly with EU law.

176.  Whatever the effect of this law, the fact remains that between 2005 and 2010 binge drinking among young adults increased in France, and this trend continues. A report published in May 2013 gave the results of a survey in 2010 which showed that for young adults aged between 18 and 25 there was an increase in binge drinking and drunkenness, with nearly twice as many men and more than twice as many women affected by drunkenness in 2010 than in 2005.[176]


177.  In 1989 a Directive known as the Television without Frontiers Directive[177] was adopted, which included in Article 15 restrictions on the content of television advertisements for alcoholic drinks. After a number of amendments, including a change to its name, it was consolidated in 2010 into the Audiovisual Media Services Directive or AVMS Directive,[178] Article 22 of which is given in Box 10.

Box 10: AVMS Directive, Article 22

Television advertising for alcoholic beverages shall comply with the following criteria:

(a)  It may not be aimed specifically at minors or, in particular, depict minors consuming these beverages;

(b)  It shall not link the consumption of alcohol to enhanced physical performance or to driving;

(c)  It shall not create the impression that the consumption of alcohol contributes towards social or sexual success;

(d)  It shall not claim that alcohol has therapeutic qualities or that it is a stimulant, a sedative or a means of resolving personal conflicts;

(e)  It shall not encourage immoderate consumption of alcohol or present abstinence or moderation in a negative light;

(f)  It shall not place emphasis on high alcoholic content as being a positive quality of the beverages.

178.  This Directive, though welcome, does little more than give legislative effect to prohibitions which, in the UK and many other Member States, are already contained in codes of practice governing self-regulation. The new Commission's Work Programme for 2015 states that results are expected in 2015 from a study "to assess whether rules on audio-visual commercial communication for alcoholic beverages have afforded minors the level of protection required, and thereby contributing to assessing the [Directive's] regulatory fitness".

179.  Section 6.3.3 of the EU Strategy, entitled 'Commercial Communication', includes the following commitments by the Commission:

    "The Commission services will work with stakeholders to create sustained momentum for cooperation on responsible commercial communication and sales, including the presentation of a model of responsible consumption of alcohol. The main aim will be to support EU and national/local government actions to prevent irresponsible marketing of alcoholic beverages, and to regularly examine trends in advertising and issues of concern relating to advertising, for example on alcohol. One aim of this joint effort will be to reach an agreement with representatives from a range of sectors (hospitality, retail, producers, media/advertising) on a code of commercial communication implemented at national and EU level. Benchmarks for codes/strategies at national level could be agreed. 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."

180.  These were ambitious commitments, and we are not aware of any concrete developments flowing from them. This is regrettable, since the Commission, if it were prepared to take the initiative, could do much to promote harmonisation of self-regulation in different Member States, and to see where self-regulation proves inadequate. It does not need a current strategy for the Commission to undertake these tasks.

181.  We recommend that the Government, in addition to any scrutiny which it undertakes of the adequacy of self-regulation of alcohol advertising, should encourage the Commission to reconsider the undertakings it gave nine years ago to work to prevent irresponsible marketing of alcoholic beverages, and to monitor the impact of self-regulatory codes.


182.  The labelling of food and drink is an area of shared EU competence. Since 1979 it has been a requirement of EU law that the labels of drinks containing more than 1.2% alcohol by volume should indicate the actual alcoholic strength by volume.[179]

183.  The power to prescribe labelling requirements is now contained in Article 114 TFEU, which allows the Parliament and the Council to adopt measures on the approximation of the laws of the Member States "which have as their object the establishment and functioning of the internal market." In 2011 a Regulation was adopted[180] consolidating earlier measures on food labelling going back many years. The Regulation came into force on 13 December 2014.[181] The definition of 'food' includes drink, and the Regulation in principle applies to alcoholic drinks. This therefore was an opportunity for the EU to legislate more prescriptively about the content of alcohol labelling. However, drinks containing more than 1.2% alcohol by volume are exempted from the obligation to list their ingredients or to provide nutritional information.[182]

184.  Thus, although alcoholic drinks account for approximately 10% of calorie intake among adults who drink, there is no requirement of EU law for drinkers to be informed of this. Ms Willmott told us: "They need to have the information (calories) and then they can decide that they want to ignore it and drink as many glasses of wine as they want, but they have the information to make an informed choice. I was very keen to get calories labelled on all alcohol but unfortunately I did not succeed, I hate to say."[183] The failure to include calorific content and sugar content on labels was also a particular concern of Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe's.[184]

185.  Member States are not precluded from applying stricter national regimes on labelling. France is the only State to have a mandatory requirement for a health warning on the packaging of alcoholic drinks. It reads (in translation): "Drinking alcoholic beverages during pregnancy even in small quantities can have serious consequences for the health of the baby." Alternatively a pictogram can be displayed. Those we have seen are far from prominent: they are often very small, and the same colour as the label.


186.  The Public Health Responsibility Deal (PHRD) was an initiative by the Government in 2011 to bring together government, business, public health organisations and local government, allowing business to make voluntary commitments within their sphere of influence to improve public health. In the United Kingdom, apart from the requirement under the EU Labelling Regulation to give alcoholic strength, there is no legislation on the health labelling of alcoholic drinks; instead it is the subject of voluntary commitments by the industry under Pledge A1 of the PHRD. The pledge reads: "We will ensure that over 80% of products on shelf (by December 2013) will have labels with clear unit content, NHS guidelines and a warning about drinking when pregnant."[185]

187.  The 101 'partners' currently committed to this pledge include all the major manufacturers and retailers in the UK. SABMiller plc, the largest drinks company in the UK, told us in their written evidence: "The PHRD has proved an effective framework for government and private sector business collaboration. It has encouraged and led the retailers and producers of beer, wine and spirits to work together with government to identify visionary solutions to alcohol-related harms."[186]

188.  Each 'partner' in the PHRD submits an annual update of its pledge. Box 11 gives the pledge of Miller Brands UK, the UK subsidiary of SABMiller.

Box 11: Responsibility Deal annual update of Miller Brands UK, April 2014
"Miller Brands UK continues to apply all 5 aspects of the Government's recommended alcohol responsibility messaging to all of its brands. This includes the three compulsory elements, namely i) clear unit content ii) daily recommended drink guidelines and iii) a warning about drinking when pregnant. We also continue to display a responsibility message, such as "know your limits" and the Drinkaware web address on all our labels."

189.  In 2014 the Department of Health and the Portman Group commissioned Campden BRI to carry out an independent market survey to assess whether the 80% target had been achieved. Their conclusion was that only 69.9% of alcohol on a market share basis complied with all three elements (unit content, drink guidelines and warning about drinking when pregnant) in accordance with the assessment criteria they had been given. Wine labels were by far the worst. The 80% target was just reached if labels were included which did contain information but not in conformity with the assessment criteria. Only 47% of labels were fully compliant and also accorded with best practice.[187]

190.  Even if the 80% target had been fully complied with, the pledge begs the question, why should it apply to only "80% of products on shelf"? What about the remaining 20%? It is unlikely that self-regulation and voluntary commitments will ever achieve 100% compliance. Should there be legislation at UK level or EU level? We put this question to Ms Ellison. She replied:

    "One of the reasons why we have pursued a voluntary approach on labelling so vigorously through the Responsibility Deal is that we are very aware of the time that it would take, even if we were successful in getting that flexibility, to get that through. We have been able to report some really important steps forward with the voluntary approach. Sometimes, on labelling in particular, I struggle to get colleagues in the Commons to understand that there is this EU competence … robust voluntary action can sometimes get you further faster than taking a legislative route … we had an independent report on it, which was published in November this year, which showed that just under 80% of bottles and cans of alcohol on our shelves now have the correct unit and health information … That has been delivered more quickly that if we had done it by notifying national legislation to the EU."[188]

191.  In the time the Responsibility Deal has been running, domestic legislation could certainly have been enacted to deal with the one in five products that still do not comply with these labelling criteria.


192.  At EU level, where the industry again secured in 2011 an exemption from the Food Labelling Regulation,[189] recital 40 of the Regulation reads: "Taking into account the specific nature of alcoholic beverages, it is appropriate to invite the Commission to analyse further the information requirements for those products. Therefore, the Commission should, taking into account the need to ensure coherence with other relevant Union policies, produce a report within 3 years of the entry into force of this Regulation concerning the application of the requirements to provide information on ingredients and nutrition information to alcoholic beverages." Article 16(4) coverts this into a mandatory obligation, and gives the Commission the deadline of 13 December 2014.

193.  The previous Commission could of course have met this deadline by reporting before the end of October 2014, when it relinquished office. No report was then published and, despite the deadline, no report has been published since the current Commission took office. Officials told us that no report should be expected in the coming months. They preferred to wait "in order to obtain a political line on the directions for the labelling of such drinks." Once the policy line was defined, they would "resume discussions with the Member States and interested parties in order to adopt the report as soon as possible."

194.  We recommend that the Government should press the Commission to propose amendments to the Food Labelling Regulation. These should make it mandatory for labelling on alcoholic beverages to include information on the strength, the ingredients, nutrition, and the dangers of drinking during pregnancy.

195.  We recommend that the Commission propose such amendments, and that thereafter the Government should support their rapid enactment.

160   IAS, Marketing and Alcohol Factsheet (May 2013): http://www.ias.org.uk/uploads/pdf/Factsheets/ Marketing%20and%20alcohol%20FS%20May%202013.pdf [accessed 24 February 2015] See also the evidence submitted to, and obtained by, the Commons Health Committee, Alcohol (First Report, Session 2009-10, HC 151-I). Back

161    Q204 Back

162    Q73 (Dr Eleanor Winpenny) Back

163   Written evidence from the Advertising Standards Authority (EAS0008) Back

164   Written evidence from the Portman Group (EAS0018) Back

165   Written evidence from the Association of Chief Police Officers, paragraphs 53-56 (EAS0021) Back

166    Q55 Back

167    Q12 Back

168    Q12. The reaction of the Advertising Association to the EAHF report, which we mention in paragraph 170 below, is an excellent example of this. Back

169   Opinion of the Science Group of the EAHF, Does marketing communication impact on the volume and patterns of consumption of alcohol beverages, especially by young people (2008): http://ec.europa.eu/health/ archive/ph_determinants/life_style/alcohol/forum/docs/ev_20090311_co04_en.pdf [accessed 24 February 2015] Back

170   Credos, Responsible drinking: Time for a responsible debate (March 2011): http://www.adassoc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Responsible-Drinking.pdf [accessed 24 February 2015] Back

171    Q23 Back

172   Loi no 91-32 du 10 janvier 1991 relative à la lutte contre le tabagisme et l'alcoolisme Back

173   Case 429/02 Back

174   Case 262/02 Back

175   The French Government also intervened in the first proceedings. In the second proceedings it was the defendant. No other Member State intervened. A joint hearing was held in the two cases on 25 November 2003 in which Bacardi, the French and United Kingdom Governments, and the Commission took part. Back

176   Institut national de prévention et d'éducation pour la santé, La consommation d'alcool des 18-25 ans en 2010 en France: spécifités et évolutions depuis 2005 (May 2013): http://opac.invs.sante.fr/ doc_num.php?explnum_id=8913 [accessed 10 February 2015] Back

177   Council Directive 89/552/EEC of 3 October 1989 on the coordination of certain provisions laid down by Law, Regulation or Administrative Action in Member States concerning the pursuit of television broadcasting activities, OJ L 298, 17 October 1989, page 23. Back

178   Directive 2010/13/EU of 10 March 2010 on the coordination of certain provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States concerning the provision of audiovisual media services (Audiovisual Media Services Directive), OJ L 95, 15 April 2010, page 1. Back

179   Article 3 of Council Directive 79/112/EEC of 18 December 1978 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to the labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs for sale to the ultimate consumer, OJ L 33, 8 February 1979, p 1. Back

180   Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2011 on the provision of food information to consumers, amending Regulations (EC) No 1924/2006 and (EC) No 1925/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council, and repealing Commission Directive 87/250/EEC, Council Directive 90/496/EEC, Commission Directive 1999/10/EC, Directive 2000/13/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, Commission Directives 2002/67/EC and 2008/5/EC and Commission Regulation (EC) No 608/2004, OJ L 304, 22 November 2011. Back

181   With the exception of rules relating to mandatory nutritional labelling for processed food, which come into force on 13 December 2016. Back

182   Article 16(4). There are a few specific nutritional requirements in other legislation, such as the obligation of wine labels to list sulphites and other potential allergens in Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 579/2012. Back

183    Q156 Back

184   Written evidence from Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe (EAS0005) Back

185   Department of Health, 'Public Health Responsibility Deal collective pledges': https://responsibilitydeal.dh.gov.uk/public-health-responsibility-deal-collective-pledges/ [accessed 24 February 2015] Back

186   Written evidence from SABMiller (EAS0009) Back

187   Campden BRI, Audit of compliance of alcohol beverage labels available from the off-trade with the Public Health Responsibility Deal Labelling Pledge (October 2014): https://responsibilitydeal.dh.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/ 2014/11/Campden-BRI_Audit-of-PHRD-labelling-compliance-2014-_FINAL-report_October2014-final.pdf [accessed 24 February 2015] Back

188    QQ233, 241. Mr Skehan had earlier told us ( Q132) that "we had the Department of Health and the Minister for Health in the UK saying it is somewhere between 80% and 90%." Back

189   See paragraph 183. Back

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