The Finnish Consumer Agency is of the view that image-based alcohol advertising and alcohol advertising in public places should be prohibited. Such a change would have an impact on overall attitudes and particularly on alcohol consumption among children and young people.
The Consumer Agency has submitted an opinion to the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health concerning the draft government proposal for amending section 33 of the Finnish Alcohol Act and Chapter 30, section 1 a of the Finnish Criminal Code. The agency is of the view that, in overall terms, the government proposal for amending the Finnish Alcohol Act deserves support.
Supervising image advertising is difficult
At the moment, advertising targeting minors that describes abundant use of alcohol in positive terms or in a way that is against good manners and that is inappropriate from the viewpoint of consumers is illegal. However, supervising image advertising that is characterised by certain degree of exaggeration has been difficult.
The Finnish Consumer Agency is of the view that problems arise because even though alcohol advertisements do not directly target minors, young people can frequently see them in such places as bus stops and vehicles and at sporting events. Light alcoholic beverages, such as beer, cider and long drink are also often advertised using images appealing to minors.
As the legal provisions are open to interpretation, the supervisory authorities have taken only infrequent action against image-based alcohol advertising. For this reason, young people frequently see alcohol advertising outdoors and on television that creates positive images about alcoholic beverages. It should also be noted that market supervision is carried out retroactively and an advertising campaign may have been going on for several weeks before it is found to be against the law and prohibited. During those weeks, the message conveyed by the advertisement has already generated plenty of positive images about alcohol.
As stated in the government proposal, business operators have introduced self-regulation as an alternative to legislation. International experiences indicate, however, that self-regulation is not an effective way of restricting alcohol advertising, which is becoming increasingly varied.
Parents must be able to bring up their children without harmful distractions
As stated in the government proposal, the principles of alcohol advertising are contrary to the objectives of the alcohol policy. The biggest conflict arises when young people are provided with information about the dangers of alcohol, while at the same time alcohol is advertised using images of what is desirable in life. It is also noted in the proposal that the start and spread of alcohol use among children and young people is influenced by a large number of simultaneous factors. The parents and close friends play an important role in both discouraging and encouraging alcohol use.
The Finnish Consumer Agency notes that the parents are only able to meet their upbringing responsibilities if the general atmosphere is in line with what is expected of them. It is difficult to encourage negative attitudes towards alcohol consumption among children and young people if at the same time the mass media and outdoor advertising promote cider as a means for boosting party spirits. Positive images are also generated by alcohol advertisements appearing on the shirts worn by sportsmen and sportswomen idolised by young people and on billboards at sports arenas.
Parents should be able to bring up their children without harmful distractions and to influence their attitudes so that advertising does not generate positive images about alcohol use that are contrary to the parents’ efforts. The Finnish Consumer Agency is of the view that prohibiting image advertising and advertising in public places would support these objectives. The harmful impacts of alcohol marketing could be decreased by limiting the legal advertising content to product information, as has been done in France, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.