Parliament debates restrictions on alcohol advertising
The Finnish Parliament is planning to hand down a significant restriction on the advertising of alcohol products.
The aim is to ban all catchwords, promotional slogans, and photos of people in alcohol advertisements. The only information permitted would be a picture of the product and a product description.
The project has been initiated in the Legal Affairs Committee, which is currently handling a new chapter to the criminal law relating to alcohol-related offences. Originally, the amendment was supposed to be primarily technical, but when some experts proposed that alcohol advertising should be restricted, the committee started to re-consider the matter.
Experts in the social and health sector have complained about how difficult it is to determine the boundaries when one has to establish the definition of the forbidden image advertising.
The committee has seen examples of the decisions made by the National Product Control Agency for Welfare and Health. Particular attention was drawn to a wine advertisement, which advised a consumer to set free his or her ”inner demons”.
The articles to restrict advertising already exist, as they were outlined in 2006. According to that amendment, it would have been prohibited for example to advertise alcohol on television early in the evening, but the strictest articles did not end up in the Government Bill.
Heidi Hautala (Green League), the chair of the Legal Affairs Committee, has been strongly pressing for the tightening of the law, and at present, she seems to be getting support from the government and opposition parties alike.
On the other hand, at least some National Coalition Party MPs are likely to disagree on the issue. Sampsa Kataja, a member of the Legal Affairs Committee, is opposing the tightening.
He thinks that such an issue would require expertise relating to both social politicy and commercial policy, and neither of them belongs to the territory of the Legal Affairs Committee.
The representatives of the brewing industry as well as communications experts have also been heard, and both sectors are opposed to the tightening of the law.
However, Maija Perho, the director of the governmental health-promotion programme, has supported the proposal.
In Monday’s edition of the Centre Party online publication Verkkoapila, Georg Henrik Wrede, the director of the government’s policy programme for the well-being of children, youth, and families, also advised the committee to give the law more teeth.
The supporters of the more stringent law are now hoping that the proposal would proceed in the government.
According to the rules adopted by the government, it is possible to amend the content of a Government Bill only upon an agreement between the parliamentary groups of the governmental parties and the proposing minister - in this case Minister of Justice Tuija Brax (Green League).
The debate in the the Legal Affairs Committee is still unfinished. Hautala estimated that the amendment could be brought on the decision table before Christmas, although it is not imperative.
Even though the 10% alcohol tax rise was passed in Parliament, some MPs are still calling for further increases.
However, some others said that smuggling and illicit distilling could increase if the tax is pushed yet higher.
FACTFILE: The present law bans image advertising
According to the current legislation, it is forbidden in advertisements to link the use of alcohol with driving.
The alcohol content of beverages must not be presented as a positive feature.
It is illegal to give a positive picture of the excess use of alcohol or to describe abstinence or the moderate consumption of alcohol in a negative light.
An advertisement must not create an impression that the use of alcohol could improve performance or promote social or sexual success.
It is also illegal to give an impression that alcohol could cure, be therapeutic, stimulate, relax, or be a way to resolve problems.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Twenty per cent of young men are problem drinkers (8.12.2008)
Statistics Finland: Alcohol kills increasing numbers of working-age Finns (5.12.2008)
Rise in alcohol tax leads to surge in personal imports from Estonia (22.8.2008)
National Product Control Agency for Welfare and Health