Compared to its northern European neighbors, Spain has traditionally held a less regulated, more relaxed attitude toward both the promotion and distribution of alcohol products. But the growing international trend toward introducing stricter curbs on advertising and consumption of alcohol has now reached this Iberian nation known as the land of ‘fiestas’.
A set of proposals to regulate alcohol advertising, up for debate in the Spanish parliament, coincides with the Interior Ministry’s efforts to clamp down on the growing popularity among teenagers to hold open-air drinking sessions which have been dubbed “botellon” (“big bottle”).
Among new measures being touted are punishments of community service, withdrawal of driving licenses, fines for vendors selling to minors and most significantly, raising the age of alcohol consumption from 16 to 18.
To reinforce these attempts to put Spanish youth out to dry, the coming alcohol advertising bill seeks to prohibit “any form of advertising, direct or indirect, of alcoholic drinks to people under 18”.
More specifically, the bill also wants a TV and radio advertising ban of any alcoholic beverages containing more than 20 degrees of alcohol; limiting the promotion of beer, wine and cava (a local form of champagne) on TV between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.; and limiting the air time of alcoholic ads to 15% of a TV channel’s total advertising slot.
Alcoholic brands would also be prohibited from sponsorship of TV programs.
For print media, the bill proposes no advertising of alcohol on the covers, inside or back pages of publications. Alcoholic beverages would be limited to no more than 25% of a newspaper or magazine’s total advertising pages.
The bill also suggests an outright ban of any alcohol advertising in cinemas and the ad ban of drinks with more than 20 degrees alcohol in outdoor media.
The content of alcohol ads would also be regulated. Ads would not be able to suggest that alcohol in any way helps drinkers to achieve social or sexual success.
The fight for stricter alcohol ad rules in Spain come only a month after the Russian parliament the State Duma proposed to ban beer advertising which includes the use of people (especially famous personalities) and animals in beer ads, and the promotion of beer as a drink to satisfy thirst.
Using the kind of rhetoric that would be counter-productive say in Spain, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, vice-speaker of the Russian Duma told Reuters: “Not American missiles, but [the] alcoholization of people and drugs aggression threaten us. Our society is tired of aggressive advertising of the yellow devil.”
In what was rather a surprise outcome, an overwhelming 304 parliamentarians approved the amendments, with only 13 voting against them in the first reading. The parliament has to approve the amendments another time before the bill can become adopted as new legislation. A decision is expected in May.
However, beer marketers are expecting parliamentarians will soften the Russian measures. They suggest beer advertising aimed at young people might be restricted, along with promotions positioning beer as a thirst quencher.
Peru, where it is rather common for beer sellers to flog their products in traffic-jammed motorways, a new law was proposed in April that would force alcoholic beverages and advertising for them to carry warning labels about their affect on health.
Propelling the new law, which is being discussed in the congressional Health Commission, is the rash of recent traffic accidents in Lima that has left scores of people dead, including a police officer. The drivers of the cars involved in the accidents were drunk.
“This law is about prevention. We need to raise awareness about the dangers of drinking in excess,” said Rep. Santa Maria, a member of the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA) party.
Besides warning labels on cans and bottles, the proposed law would ensure advertisements for alcoholic beverages carry a disclaimer saying that excess consumption is harmful to health.
“The law calls for TV, radio and print ads to also include warnings about drinking alcohol. This is necessary to protect consumers,” said Mr. Santa Maria.
Predictably, the Alcohol Beverages Committee within the National Society of Industries opposed the need for a law forcing companies to place warning labels. “We can put labels on the products, but more important than labels are public awareness campaigns and we are already doing that,” said Luis Taipe, head of the committee.
The U.K. has also recently mooted the introduction of tobacco-style health warnings on alcohol advertisements. At the end of last year, the government’s Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson mentioned in a report, the need to “change attitudes to problem drinking to make it socially less acceptable” and to “convey a consistent message on how to minimize the risk of using alcohol.”
The move was immediately slammed by the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA). “All research shows that (warnings) could have an opposite effect on youngsters” argued Ian Twinn, head of public affairs at ISBA. Instead, the body suggested the government focus on ‘positive’ ads that promote sensible drinking.
Other proposals made in different markets within the last year include:
In 2001, European health ministers decided to adopt a soft approach to reduce underage drinking, rather than pushing for a new legislation. Sweden however, which bans alcohol advertising, pushed for its protectionist approach to marketing to be taken up elsewhere in the Union.
In October last year, French Health Minister Bernard Kouchner launched a wide-ranging anti-alcohol campaign from Omnicom Group-owned CLM/BBDO, Paris that targets three subjects: detection of problem drinking by physicians, better handling of alcohol-related emergencies and greater alcohol-awareness, particularly among young people. The campaign from CLM/BBDO includes two new films destined for cinema and TV as well as distribution of more than four million anti-alcohol abuse brochures nationwide.
South Africa’s Central Drug Authority, a government body that advises on the prevention of substance abuse, proposed wide-ranging restrictions and prohibitions on advertising of liquor products.
These include the banning of TV and radio advertising between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., the compulsory inclusion in liquor advertisements of alcohol abuse warnings, and warning labels on liquor packaging.
The authority also called for government departments to step up efforts to inform the public of the dangers of excessive alcohol use with messages carefully crafted “so as not to encourage the forbidden fruit phenomenon.”
In Venezuela, the across-the-board prohibition of all liquor and cigarette advertising outlined in Venezuela’s new Public Health Law now being debated in the National Assembly was mended to make it more flexible.
Last year, Thailand’s Health Promotion Foundation blamed an alarming increase in new drinkers — especially among teenagers and women — on lax ad rules for alcoholic beverages.
The powerful Australian Medical Association has urged the federal government in the past to legislate so that all alcoholic beverage advertising carries a warning of what the AMA says is safe daily consumption.