France: Alcohol Advertising Ban Wins Case in High-Court

In France, the so called “Loi Evin” or the Evin Law strictly regulates alcohol marketing and largely bans alcohol advertising. Nevertheless, despite the legal repercussions Big Alcohol continues to break the law or attempts to circumvent it. Recently a landmark case against such a breach of the Evin Law was won in the French High-Court.

Background to the Evin Law in France

The Evin Law is implemented in France since 1991. Before the Evin Law, the French alcohol advertising laws discriminated against foreign products, which led the Scotch whisky producers took the French Government to European Court of Justice, who condemned the French government and asked to change the law in 1980. While a first law was passed in 1985, the government did not produce a satisfactory text till 1991. The alcohol industry heavily exploited this time period with an avalanche of advertising which led the government to implement the clear and highly effective Evin Law.

The alcohol industry likely never expected their own lobbying and litigation would result in actually improving alcohol marketing laws in France, considering the pervasive alcohol norm in the country.

Ever since the adoption of the Evin Law, the alcohol industry has attempted to undermine, derail and destroy the alcohol marketing regulations. For example in 2019, another political struggle erupted over the ‘Loi Evin’. The health minister of France wanted the ‘Loi Evin’ extended while a group of 105 MPs of the ruling party proposed relaxing the law, apparently on behalf of the alcohol industry.

France: Political Struggle Over Loi Evin

How the Evin Law works

The articles relating to alcohol in the ‘Loi Evin’ can be summarised in the following way:

A clear definition of alcoholic beverages is given:

  • All alcoholic drinks over 1.2% alcohol by volume are considered alcoholic beverages.
  • Places and media where advertising is authorised are defined.
  • No alcohol advertising should target young people;
  • No alcohol advertising is allowed on television or in cinemas;
  • No alcohol sponsorship of cultural or sport events is permitted.

Alcohol 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 or wine museums. When advertising is permitted, its content is regulated:

  1. Messages and images should refer only to the qualities of the products such as degree, origin, composition, means of production, patterns of consumption;
  2. A health message must be included on each advertisement, such as “l’abus d’alcool est dangereux pour la santé” (the abuse of alcohol is dangerous for health).

The Association Nationale de Prévention en Alcoologie et Addictologie (ANPAA) has been working in France to make sure the Evin Law is upheld and to take action against breaches of the law. ANPAA for example monitors Big Alcohol’s attempt to attack the current alcohol marketing laws and works to protect the evidence-based and successful Evin Law.

ANPAA, France: Exposing Big Alcohol Lobbying

Major changes in alcohol advertising in France could be observed ever since the introduction of the Evin Law in 1991. Clearly, the law is impactful and successful in protecting youth.

The Evin Law has resulted in alcohol ads only showing the product and information, thus, alcohol ads can’t maintain and feed harmful alcohol norms or increase attractiveness of alcohol through advertising in France. The Evin Law protects young people from alcohol industry manipulation aiming to increase consumption.

Unfortunately, the law has been amended and weakened since 1991. Advertising is again permitted on billboards everywhere (and not only on places of production) and even in sports grounds, but the ban on television broadcasts restrains alcohol advertising for major events.

Court of Cassation reaffirms the limits of alcohol advertising

In February 2017, following action taken by ANPAA, the Tribunal de Grande Instance (TGI) of Paris had condemned advertisements on the Grimbergen beer website. The judge stated that the reference in the advertising content to the Game of Thrones series had nothing to do with the production methods or the regions of origin, but promoted the consumption of that alcoholic beverage among youth. The association of the alcoholic beverage with the Phoenix, a legendary animal endowed with exceptional powers, was also beyond the Evin Law’s stipulated advertising rules.

In its ruling of principle of May 20, 2020, the Court of Cassation overturned the decision of the Court of Appeal and legitimised the strict application of the Evin Law.

The notion of objective description had already been addressed by the Court of Cassation in previous cases such as a 2013 case against an advertising campaign that was made via Facebook, using the slogan “un Ricard desrencontres” (suggesting the combined ideas of having a Ricard and meeting with friends). Here the Court of Cassation upheld the Evin Law as the advertising campaign had an alcohol promotion nature and was not objective, used ambiguous and subjective language and was intrusive.

The new decision by the Court of Cassation against the ads on the Grimbergen beer website is specifically important as it affirms the principle of alcohol advertising with a strictly informative purpose. 

Alcohol policy solutions enable freedom

The idea that alcohol policy solutions are limiting freedom comes from the alcohol industry who wants to increase alcohol consumption and thereby private profits, regardless of the health, social, and economic cost of their products.

In reality, alcohol policy solutions enable freedom.

The alcohol industry in truth aims to control the public and establish norms to sell their products. Alcohol policy solutions on the other hand aim to create health promoting environments, reducing pressures to engage in harmful behaviors without manipulation from the alcohol industry.

For more details about the Evin Law:

EUCAM provides an excellent overview

France

Sources:

Eurocare: “Victory for the Evin law, the Court of Cassation reaffirms the limits of advertising for alcohol brands

Lexology: “French ‘Evin Law’ and social networks: Heineken and Facebook summoned to court!

IAS: “The ‘Loi Evin’: a French exception