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An attempt to ban evocative alcohol advertising

Country: 
Finland
Partner Institute: 
National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), Helsinki
Survey no: 
(16)2010
Author(s): 
Tynkkynen, Liina-Kaisa
Health Policy Issues: 
Public Health, Prevention
Current Process Stages
Idea Pilot Policy Paper Legislation Implementation Evaluation Change
Implemented in this survey? no no yes yes no yes no

Abstract

In summer 2009 the Finnish Government set up a working group to evaluate, among others, whether restrictions on evocative (visual) alcohol advertising were necessary. The working group finished its work in summer 2010 and concluded that no additional measures were needed concerning evocative alcohol advertising. This raised opposition, and consequently a bill proposing that only product information would be allowed to be shown in the commercials was introduced in Parliament in September 2010.

Purpose of health policy or idea

Alcohol policy has traditionally been a highly debated subject in Finland. Alcohol consumption in Finland is one of the highest in Europe and the highest of the Nordic countries. Several policy tools have been used in order to restrain alcohol consumption. Special attention has been paid to children and adolescents, as well as to people suffering from abuse. Restricting alcohol advertising has been one of the policy tools used in order to fight the high consumption rate. In September 2010, a parliament representative initiated a bill, that was signed by over 100 representatives, and introduced it in parliament. According to the proposal only product information would be allowed to be shown in the commercials. In addition, the Minister of Health and Social Services promised to introduce a bill on alcohol advertising in the autumn 2010 as well.

Main points

Main objectives

The main objective of the attempt to further restrict alcohol advertising is to prevent alcohol related problems, and to cut alcohol consumption, especially among children, adolescents and problem drinkers.

Type of incentives

The alcohol consumption among children and adolescents has raised concerns among the public, and attitudes towards alcohol abuse are increasingly becoming negative. Thus, the MPs may assume that the measures taken against the excessive alcohol consumption are supported by citizens (i.e. potential voters).

Groups affected

Children/Adolescents, Alcohol Industry, Retailers

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Characteristics of this policy

Degree of Innovation traditional rather traditional innovative
Degree of Controversy consensual controversial highly controversial
Structural or Systemic Impact marginal marginal fundamental
Public Visibility very low high very high
Transferability strongly system-dependent system-neutral system-neutral

Degree of Innovation: Affecting advertising is a rather traditional means, since it is being tried to reduce alcohol consumption.

Degree of Controversy: The issue is highly controversial as the alcohol industry, as well as the sellers, are strictly opposed, whereas health authorities and the public are supportive towards the idea of further restrictions.

Structure of systemic impact: There are existing restrictions on alcohol advertising. The bill would increase regulation but would not mean a substantial structural change in policies.

Public visibility: As alcohol is an issue that usually gains quite high public visibility, this will be the case this time as well.

Transferability: In principal, restrictions on alcohol advertising are not system dependent. However, Finland has a long tradition of restrictive alcohol policies, which can be expected to make further restrictions in advertising more probable to be adopted.

Political and economic background

Alcohol policies have traditionally been high on the political agenda. Cutting down the high alcohol consumption has been regarded as one of the main targets of health promotion policies in Finland. Taxation has been one of the main policy tools which have been used to reduce alcohol consumption. However, alcohol taxation was significantly lowered in 2004 (HPM 5/2005). The argument behind the tax reduction was the EU membership of Estonia, where alcohol prices were substantially lower than in Finland. It was assumed that alcohol imports from Estonia would increase due to relaxed import restrictions. This would result in decreasing returns from alcohol tax. After 2004 alcohol consumption increased significantly (HPM 11/2008). In addition, it was estimated that imports would not increase substantially if alcohol taxation was increased. Consequently, the Government started to increase alcohol taxation again. Firstly, taxation was increased by ten per cent (15 % on spirits) at the beginning of 2008 and secondly by another ten per cent at the beginning of 2009. Thirdly, taxation was again increased by ten per cent increased October 2009.

However, political interest towards other potential means grew. In 2008, the Alcohol Act was introduced, which further restricts alcohol advertising. According to the new restrictions, it is not allowed to show alcohol advertisement on TV between 7 am and 9 pm. It is also forbidden to show alcohol advertisements in movies forbidden for under-18-year-olds. In addition, volume discounts (e.g. selling a six-pack cheaper than separate bottles of beer), as well as advertisements emphasizing temporarily low alcohol prices (e.g. temporary "happy hour" advertisements), were banned. However, the health authorities argue that the restrictions should concern the content of the advertisements as well. Contents of advertisement currently is regulated, but the restrictions are found to be rather vague and open to interpretations.

Purpose and process analysis

Current Process Stages

Idea Pilot Policy Paper Legislation Implementation Evaluation Change
Implemented in this survey? no no yes yes no yes no

Origins of health policy idea

In summer 2009 the regulations concerning alcohol offences were renewed. In this context, Parliament requested the Government to explore the effects of alcohol advertisement legislation enforced in 2008, and to evaluate the necessity of restrictions on evocative alcohol advertising. Parliament focussed especially on the effects of advertising on adolescents and children.

In order to fulfill the Parliament's request, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health set up a working group with the following objectives:

  • to explore the effects of the renewed alcohol advertisement legislation enforced in January 2008
  • to evaluate the necessity of additional measures against the evocative advertising
  • to gather evidence on the influence of alcohol advertising on adolescents and children
  • to explore possibilities to affect alcohol consumption of adolescents
  • to explore how the age in which people start to drink alcohol could be increased

The working group finished its work in summer of 2010 and concluded that advertisers, sellers and other stakeholders conform to the new legislation sufficiently. In addition, the working group suggested, though not unanimously, that no additional measures were needed to restrict evocative alcohol advertising. This suggestion was heavily criticized by several politicians, health authorities and even by some working group members. In Parliament, the criticism resulted in a bill, which was proposed by more than half of all MPs, who represent all parties. This bill would provide a complete ban of evocative alcohol advertising.

Initiators of idea/main actors

  • Civil Society
  • Private Sector or Industry
  • Media
  • Others

Stakeholder positions

Alcohol Industry

The alcohol industry is opposing the ban on evocative alcohol advertising, as it would probably suffer the most considerable losses if the ban is implemented. One member of the working group was a representative from the Federation of the Brewing and Soft Drinks Industry, representing the alcohol industry in Finland. Thus, the industry representatives had a say, at least as the political preparations are concerned. However, it is possible that the representatives of the industrial sector do not have substantial influence on the final policy decision. This, for instance, was the case with the legislation on smoking, and the role of tobacco industry in the policy process.

Retailers

Alcohol is an important product for grocery stores and supermarkets, which are allowed to sell alcoholic beverages with a maximum of 4.6 % by volume ethyl alcohol. Alcoholic beverages containing more than 4.6 % by volume ethyl alcohol are sold by the State Alcohol Monopoly Alko (i.e. a limited company Alko Ltd. owned by the State), which has the sole right for selling alcohol with more than 4.6 % by volume ethyl alcohol. The retailers were strongly opposed to the amendments to the alcohol legislation in 2008 as well. However, at least in the short run, the restrictions on evocative advertising may not have a direct effect on the sales. If the ban of evocative alcohol advertising appears to be an effective tool to reduce the alcohol consumption as a whole, the policy naturally affects also the sells of the retailers.

In the working group there was a member from The Finnish Grocery Trade Association representing the grocers, and a representative from Alko. Thus, the retailers had a say at least as the political preparations are concerned. However, it may be that in the end the retailers do not have a substantial influence on the final policy decision.

State Agencies

The representatives from the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health (Valvira) and from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health represented state agencies in the working group. The representatives had a very supportive position towards the advertising restrictions. Evidence exists that advertisement, in which positive things are related to alcohol, may increase the alcohol consumption among adolescents. Thus, the representatives of the state agencies hope that by banning this kind of evocative advertising the alcohol consumption, especially among adolescent and children, could be reduced as well. Both representatives disagreed with the working group proposals. The representatives of the state agencies usually are appreciated as far as health promotion or public health policies are concerned. Regarding public health issues, the politicians who support the industry usually stay in the opposition. Therefore, the influence of the health authorities may be regarded as strong.

Civil Society

The representatives of the Finnish Student Health Service (FSHS), The Finnish Centre for Health Promotion (FCHP), The A-Clinic Foundation (a foundation aiming to reduce alcohol, drug and other addiction problems by providing varied professional services) represented civil society in the working group. All the representatives had a very supportive position towards the advertising restrictions, and all but FSHS disagreed with the working group proposals. The civil society representatives usually are appreciated concerning health promotion or public health policy desicions. The representatives coming from the institutions mentioned above are experts on their field and usually posses the latest research knowledge on the issues. Regarding public health issues, the politicians supporting the industry usually stay in the opposition. Therefore, the influence of the health authorities may be regarded as strong.

Public

According to a newly published survey, the majority of the Finnish citizens support the ban on evocative alcohol advertising. Alcohol consumption among children and adolescents in particular have raised concerns among the public. However, the influence of the public may be regarded as weak.

Media

Alcohol policies are often widely discussed in the media. This is the case with this policy as well. The media has not taken a clear position regarding the subject. However, there may be a slight opposition among some media representatives concerning restricted advertising, which has been related with the issue of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is a highly sensitive subject among the media representatives in Finland. As fas as the alcohol policies are concerned, the influence of the media may not be disregarded. Since alcohol is quite an emotional subject among citizens, politicians and the business life, the influence of the media may be regarded strong.

Actors and positions

Description of actors and their positions
Civil Society
Finnish Student Health Servicevery supportivevery supportive strongly opposed
The Finnish Centre for Health Promotionvery supportivevery supportive strongly opposed
The A-Clinic Foundationvery supportivevery supportive strongly opposed
Publicvery supportivesupportive strongly opposed
Private Sector or Industry
Alcohol industryvery supportivestrongly opposed strongly opposed
Media
Media representativesvery supportiveneutral strongly opposed
Others
Retailersvery supportiveopposed strongly opposed
State Agenciesvery supportivevery supportive strongly opposed

Influences in policy making and legislation

The working group report caused substantial criticism that resulted in a bill proposed by individual MPs, representing over 50% of all MPs. Parliament will have a hearing on the bill in autumn 2010.

Actors and influence

Description of actors and their influence

Civil Society
Finnish Student Health Servicevery strongstrong none
The Finnish Centre for Health Promotionvery strongstrong none
The A-Clinic Foundationvery strongstrong none
Publicvery strongweak none
Private Sector or Industry
Alcohol industryvery strongneutral none
Media
Media representativesvery strongstrong none
Others
Retailersvery strongneutral none
State Agenciesvery strongstrong none
Finnish Student Health Service, The Finnish Centre for Health Promotion, The A-Clinic Foundation, State AgenciesPublicMedia representativesRetailersAlcohol industry

Positions and Influences at a glance

Graphical actors vs. influence map representing the above actors vs. influences table.

Adoption and implementation

It is not possible to comment on the implementation yet, as the process is still on-going.

Monitoring and evaluation

The monitoring and evaluation of the possible restrictions would most probably belong to the responsibility of the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health (Valvira).

Results of evaluation

The advertisers have conformed to the alcohol legislation enforces in 2008. Even though it is not possible to conclude anything about the evaluation yet, the previous experiences are promising.

Expected outcome

Alcohol policy remains a highly debated subject in Finland and evocative advertising has been debated earlier. The new bill will be introduced in Parliament in late autumn 2010 and it can be expected that the bill has rather good chances to be passed. However, there are a few challenges that should be taken into account. The first challenge may be the definition of the concept "evocative advertising". According to an expert opinion, the only effective way to implement the ban is (a) to define which product information is allowed and (b) to ban other kinds of advertising as well. Another challenge may concern the monitoring of the restrictions. It has been argued that the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health (Valvira) is already lacking sufficient resources to monitor advertising according to the current legislation, and it is not possible for the agency to take additional responsibilities. Probably, this concerns especially advertising on the internet. In other media (e.g. public places, TV, newspapers) the monitoring is potentially easier as the commercials are easy to find and visible for everyone.

As far as research evidence is concerned the restrictions regarding evocative alcohol advertising may reduce alcohol consumption among adolescents and children. However, if the aim of the policy is to influence the consumption of adolescents, special attention should be paid to the new forms of advertising. The Internet seems to become an important forum when it comes to the sources of information and to the forums of advertising. This may be said despite a recent Finnish survey (Karlsson 2009) according to which adolescents have mostly seen alcohol commercials on TV and in public places. However, it is possible that adolescents do not regard the commercials shown on the Internet (e.g. in Facebook) as advertisement. Thus, advertising on the Internet may be even more influential than advertising that is consciously acknowledged (e.g. commercials on TV).  In the context of the Internet, the restrictions may not be as easy to implement as in the context of traditional media, such as TV and public places. Thus, it is not evident that the policy will succeed in reducing the alcohol consumption among adolescents.

Finally, attention should be paid to the wider concept of marketing that e.g. includes packing, product development, subliminal advertising as well. This has also been suggested by research in the field. It is likely that when the advertising is highly restricted the wider concept of marketing becomes even more important in influencing the consumers than at present. Hence, as to the bill proposal, it might be better to address marketing in general, and not only a few of the factors (i.e. advertising) that influence alcohol consumption.

Impact of this policy

Quality of Health Care Services marginal marginal fundamental
Level of Equity system less equitable neutral system more equitable
Cost Efficiency very low very low very high

This policy is not very relevant regarding the quality of health care services, the level of equity or the cost efficiency.

References

Sources of Information

The alcohol act (No. 1143/1994).
http://www.finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/1994/en19941143.pdf

The Committee Report. 2010.
http://www.stm.fi/c/document_library/get_file?folderId=39502&name=DLFE-11709.pdf

Karlsson, T. (ed.) 2009. Suomen alkoholiolot 2000-luvun alussa (The alcohol situation in Finland in the early 2000s). THL reports 15/2009: Jyväskylä.
http://www.thl.fi/thl-client/pdfs/054b8176-68eb-4b9e-baf2-5cf346bfcc37

Tigerstedt, C. Major reductions in taxes on alcohol beverages. Health Policy Monitor, March 2005. http://www.hpm.org/survey/fi/a5/5

Vuorenkoski, L. Major reduction in taxes on alcohol - Follow up. Health Policy Monitor, April 2008. http://www.hpm.org/survey/fi/a11/1

Author/s and/or contributors to this survey

Tynkkynen, Liina-Kaisa

Suggested citation for this online article

Tynkkynen, Liina-Kaisa. "An attempt to ban evocative alcohol advertising". Health Policy Monitor, October 2010. Available at http://www.hpm.org/survey/fi/a16/3