EU alcohol strategy may hit retailers

By Leah Vyse

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Alcohol Drinking culture

Alcohol retailers across Europe could be hit by European Commission
plans to tighten controls surrounding the sale and marketing of
alcohol products in a bid to tackle underage drinking.

The proposals, set out in a discussion paper outlining an EU strategy on alcohol, could see the minimum age limit for purchasing alcohol, as well as advertising guidelines, harmonised across all member states.

Tighter controls, which European officials hope will be voluntarily initiated, were requested unanimously from health ministers from all EU states as a way of tackling the problem of alcohol-related harm. The region consumes the largest amount of alcohol in the world.

Retail analyst at Datamonitor John Band claims the strategy would have minimal impact on the UK where marketing guidelines are already in place to ensure advertisers do not glorify alcohol to minors. But he warns that countries such as Germany may suffer because its advertising restrictions surrounding alcohol are more lax.

A common minimum age for purchasing alcohol, expected to be set at 18, would also affect many countries within the EU, such as Italy and France, where teenagers can buy alcohol from 16 years old.

The Commission is currently engaged in dialogue with stakeholders, representatives from the alcohol industry and NGOs for input to the new strategy that is scheduled for completion by mid 2006.

While the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has backed recent government initiatives to tackle underage drinking in the UK, a spokesperson told​ that it was not in favour of one of the proposals, the restriction of alcohol sales to certain areas of shops.

"Most of our members would argue that buying alcohol is part of a weekly shop and it shouldn't be restricted."

Other possible proposals to be considered include increasing the information about the amount of alcohol and calories contained in products in light of the binge drinking culture.

A common alcohol limit for drivers and stricter punishment for those driving under the influence may also be introduced.

Band noted, however, that the strategy could have some benefits for the industry.

"Underage drinking causes massive amounts of ill-feeling towards the drinks market. It is in everybody's interest to tackle the problem."

Early next year the Commission aims to produce a new 'white book' outlining the EU's alcohol policy in terms of sales, advertising and usage across the continent.

To support the proposed policy changes, it will present a detailed study on the health, social and economic costs of alcohol-related problems in the EU.

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