A French anti-alcoholism group urged the government on Wednesday to resist pressure from wine makers to allow them to make more appealing advertisements.
The group said drink-related illnesses would rise if the government relaxed restrictions on advertising, which limit wine makers to giving factual information rather than associating the drink with certain types of people.
A pillar of French life that provides 75,000 jobs, France’s wine sector has been hit hard by competition from New World rivals such as Australia and South Africa, as well as an increase in health-consciousness.
Senators have already backed relaxation measures as part of a campaign to boost consumption. A vote from the lower house of parliament could clear the way for more advertising to encourage the French to drink the industry out of a slump.
“More advertising will increase consumption and increase the risks of illness or accidents linked to alcohol,” Alain Rigaud, a doctor who leads the National Association for the Prevention of Alcoholism and Addiction, told a news conference.
Excessive alcohol consumption led to 40,000 premature deaths in France in 2002, of which 23,000 were from illness and 17,000 from drink-linked accidents, murders and suicides, said Rigaud.
Drinking on average more than two glasses of wine a day in the case of women, or three for men, increases the risk of cancer, heart disease and liver disease, added Rigaud, a doctor who occasionally enjoys a glass or two of wine.
“It’s drinking to excess that is problematic,” he said. “We’re not demonizing wine.”
Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin is due to review a report on wine advertising in the coming days. His view is likely to steer the conservative majority in parliament.
A vote in favor of the relaxation by both houses of parliament could lead to a change in the controversial 1991 “Evin Law,” which bans alcohol advertising on television and at sports events. Deputies are due to vote in the autumn.
Raffarin said earlier this year the wine sector needed more scope to improve its marketing, apparently softening the government’s previous opposition to reviewing the law for fear of bucking a downward trend in drink-driving deaths.
French wine exports fell 3.4 percent last year, hit by factors such as France’s row with the United States over the Iraq war and the rise in the euro against the dollar, which made its products more expensive abroad.
In a wider cultural shift, wine is no longer the automatic drink of choice for many French. Producers put consumption at 58 liters per person in 2002 against 100 liters in the early 1960s.
Revision date: June 14, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.