A historic victory against online alcohol sponsorship in France.
In early January, the Paris Court ordered the Meta group (parent company of Facebook and Instagram) to remove 37 posts deemed illegal on Instagram. These posts had been published by about twenty different influencers, all of them accumulating nearly 5 million followers. They have been deemed in violation of the Loi Evin because the posts improperly promote alcoholic beverages. In addition to ordering the withdrawal of the publications, the judge ordered Meta to communicate the contact details of their authors to Addictions France so that they themselves could be prosecuted.

A historic victory against online alcohol sponsorship

For 18 months, Addictions France has been contacting influencers who publish posts on social media that promote alcohol brands. The objective was first of all to make them aware of public health issues but also to remind them of the existence of the Evin’s law (Loi Evin) and to achieve the withdrawal of harmful content.

While some influencers were sensitive to the process, others did not respond or simply refused to recognize the illegality of their publications.

Loi Evin: France’s alcohol advertising ban

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:
    • Messages and images should refer only to the qualities of the products such as degree, origin, composition, means of production, patterns of consumption;
    • 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).

Recent scientific analysis found that regulating alcohol advertising content comprehensively, as per France’s Évin law in 1991 or similar measures in other countries, is an effective policy solutions for protecting vulnerable young people. Scientists found that the French Évin Law reduces the attractiveness of alcohol for young people.

Court orders Meta to take action

The conduct of these influencers and the presence of alcohol ads on Meta’s social media platforms is the reason why Meta is called into question:

In the absence of withdrawal of content by influencers, Meta (Instagram in this case), as soon as it is informed of the existence of posts contrary to the law, is required to delete them.

But Meta did not respond positively to Addictions France’s requests for deletion.

Nevertheless, in its decision, the Paris Court ruled in favor of Addictions France’s lawsuit against Meta. Despite Meta’s opposition, the ruling did:

  • Recognize the illegality of the content which Addictions France exposed,
  • Ordered the withdrawal of these, and
  • Ordered the communication of the identification data of the authors.

Strong sign from the court in favor of Loi Evin

The ruling creates new case law on the illicit sponsorship of alcohol on social networks. This decision echoes the recent investigation by the DGCCRF, which pinpointed many influencers (60% of the profiles studied) acting illegally and in breach of ethical and legal frameworks.

It is another legal victory for Addictions France, part of important work to protect the Loi Evin – a world class alcohol marketing regulation.

In December 2022, Addictions France had taken successful legal action against AB InBev’s alcohol advertising campaign that violated the Evin’s Law for its obvious link with the world of football and the World Cup. The verdict from the courts was: the Budweiser campaign was illegal, and had to be removed from public transport across France.

5 million French people, mostly youth, are exposed to illegal publications

For several years, influencers (and their practices) have been at the heart of the controversy. The accusations of scam and fraud brought to light in the media have revealed a fundamental problem:

almost total impunity of brands on social networks which, under the guise of influencer partnerships, improperly promote their products.

Addictions France has exposed and taken action against such practices because they particularly affect the younger generations – the main users of social networks, especially Instagram.

It is potentially 5 million French people who have been affected by illegal publications – and the majority of them are young people (minors).

In the 37 posts exposed by Addictions France, it is clear that influencers encourage alcohol consumption by associating the product(s) presented with their positive image.

As it is possible to see in the case of the Bastos post for example (see screenshot to the right), the consumption of alcohol is associated with a convivial moment between friends – which is illegal, according to the Loi Evin.

Too often, alcohol use is promoted as being synonymous with partying, sexuality, travel or vacations. In addition, the mandatory health messages are often absent, whether in description or on the visual.

Influencer alcohol promotion, exposed by Addictions France

Among the content targeted, dozens of brands are clearly visible both through hashtags and hyperlinks, and on the visuals themselves:

  • Gray Goose,
  • Heineken,
  • Laurent Perrier,
  • Havana Club and
  • Aperol.

This list of brands implicates some of the largest alcohol companies in the world in the sabotage and undermining of French law: Bacardi Group, Heineken, Pernord Ricard, and Campari Group. The Big Alcohol giants are violating French law to promote their products to young audiences.

This is not the first time that alcohol giants are exposed for violating French law.

Alcohol giant Pernod Ricard was accused of hidden marketing using child-friendly TikTok and youth-oriented Instagram to promote their brands.

Two social media accounts on TikTok and Instagram under one and the same username were promoting Pernod Ricard products. The content was illegal under the French Evin’s law. Some of the content was highly unethical, associating alcohol with driving and even featuring children. The Addictions France Association filed lawsuit asking the courts to order TikTok and Instagram (through its parent company Meta) to communicate the name and contact details of the internet user behind the two accounts which are suspected to be advertising in disguise for alcohol giant Pernod Ricard.

For the alcohol companies, these indirect sponsorship techniques are a godsend: by shifting the responsibility to influencers who are not always aware of the Evin’s law, they diffuse responsibility and complicate true accountability.

Regulating influencer marketing and banning “alcohol” advertising by influencers: a public health necessity

The Loi Evin has been constantly undermined and gradually worsened since its creation, especially since the authorization of advertising on the Internet in 2009. Online and social media alcohol promotions have now exploded due to influencers.

A study from January 2022 documented how the Évin Law has been continuously weakened since its initial implementation in 1991. The research revealed the long-term lobbying strategies and arguments that have been used by the alcohol industry to erode the law.

There is an urgent need to legislate and ban alcohol advertising by influencers on social networks, because young people are much more receptive to advertisements from personalities with whom they identify.

Franck Lecas, legal manager at Addictions France, says:

All stakeholders have a role to play in preventing young people, especially minors, from being encouraged to drink alcohol: influencers, alcohol producers, the networks themselves (represented here by Meta) and the Government.

Addictions France, at its humble associative level, was only able to pinpoint about thirty problematic publications while hundreds are surely published every day.

Addictions France invites the Government and parliamentarians not to underestimate the deleterious consequences of the promotion of health harmful products on social networks and to take all necessary measures.”

Franck Lecas, legal manager, Addictions France

The Ministry of the Economy has launched a public consultation aimed at regulating the commercial practices of influencers. In addition, several bills are currently under consideration on this urgent subject.

Understanding France’s Alcohol Burden: High Alcohol Mortality Requires Urgent Action

The products and practices of the alcohol industry are causing serious harm to people and communities in France. In 2021, Inserm, the French public research organization dedicated to health, released a collective expert opinion on the alcohol burden in France. They reported preventable deaths caused by alcohol are higher in France than anywhere else in Europe.

In fact, alcohol is the second largest cause of preventable death.

The authors presented three recommendations to reduce the French alcohol burden:

  1. improve regulations,
  2. intensify prevention messages, and
  3. systematically screen, with better monitoring.

This is the context of AB InBev’s, Pernod Ricard’s, and other alcohol giants’ violations of French law to drive alcohol use. The example revealed by Addictions France illustrate that alcohol companies put their private profits over the health and well-being of the people in France.

Source Website: Addictions France [press release translated from French]