EC taking gentler booze stance

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BRUSSELS -- The European Commission is expected to drop plans to ban alcohol sponsorship and advertising when it unveils its strategy to tackle alcohol abuse across the European Union today, EC sources confirmed Monday.

The EC is poised to reject proposals it floated earlier this year that would have banished commercials like George Clooney's Martini ads from primetime television as well as such sponsorships as Budweiser's association with the World Cup. The EC also will jettison other proposals for cigarette-style health warnings on bottles, a cut in the permitted levels of drinking before driving and random driver breathalyzer tests, it also was learned.

The EC strategy will instead take a similar approach to that taken on the issue of obesity in 2005, by setting up an "alcohol platform" or forum that will bring industry and health experts together to share best practice.

As with the obesity program, it is expected that the EC will put the emphasis on self-regulation and will call on the industry to adopt responsible marketing practices-- including not targeting children and adolescents with commercials.

Jamie Fortescue, director general of the European Spirits Organization, while not commenting on the purported rejection of the alcohol proposals, commented: "We have always believed that self-regulation will produce the best results."

One World Health Organization study found that exposure to television, music videos and sponsorship with alcohol adverts encourages "youth drinking and increased drinking."

A watered-down plan would be a setback for EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou who has long warned about the dangers of alcohol abuse in the EU. An EC paper earlier this year put the economic cost of alcohol abuse in Europe at about €125 billion ($156.8 billion) a year -- or 1.3% of GDP -- due to ill-health, lost productivity through absenteeism, unemployment and lost working years through premature death.
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