Trade associations want to stop off-trade selling of alcohol to minors

Member states in December 2015 urged the Commission to publish a new strategy on how member states can prevent alcohol-related harm. [srgpicker/Flickr]

It’s too easy for minors to buy alcohol in supermarkets in the EU, say local trade associations, who are stepping up their efforts to promote responsible drinking.

The term ‘on-trade’ refers to business with hotels, bars and restaurants, whereas ‘off-trade’ means sales to food retailers like supermarkets.

Last year saw a string of trade associations in EU member states start campaigns to discourage the off-trade selling of alcohol to minors in supermarkets, a key target point they said in order to prevent underage-drinking.

The European Commission estimates that alcohol-related harm costs the EU €150 billion per year. Each year 120,000 European citizens die due to alcohol misuse, which can be linked to 60 different diseases.

“We know minors can access alcohol in shops in both on- and off-trade and so this is an important area of work for us, to cut off that access,” said Paul Skehan, the director general of SpiritsEurope, which represents the spirits and liqueur industry at EU level.

Lawmakers urge alcohol curbs on minors

The European Parliament's Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) has voted on Monday (10 March) in favour of an EU proposal to reduce alcohol consumption by minors.

In Poland, where buyers must be at least 18 years old and prove it with ID, the Vodka Producers Association (ZP PPS) decided to work with supermarkets, such as Tesco and Spar, to encourage retailers to check the age of their customers before selling alcoholic drinks after a survey showed that 70% of teenagers in Poland said they have ‘easy or rather easy access to alcohol.’

“Of course we know that some have easy access via their parents, but far too much is due to the alcohol sale in supermarkets,” said Iga Wasilewicz from the ZP PPS, at an event in Brussels on Tuesday (19 April).

“This is why we have created the campaign “Here we check if you are an adult” where we promote checking for age verification. We try to target three groups: the underage, the retailers and society in general, for example someone who can be a witness of this illegal sale,” Wasilewicz said, adding that the campaign in 2015 reached 6,000 points of sale in Poland.

Supermarket chains and convenience stores on board

In France, the alcohol-harm prevention association Avec Modération has set up a campaign with the French convenience stores’ federation and targeted almost 6,000 stores in the country with a leaflet that gives information about French alcohol laws and with a guidance for professionals on how to enforce them.

“We strongly believe that this is a key point for fighting underage drinking,” said Alexis Capitant, a representative of the association.

The campaign comes at a crucial time. On Tuesday (19 April), a new survey by Axa insurance revealed that almost one quarter of French drivers have admitted to drinking before driving, despite the fact that the French government last year cracked down on drink driving among young people by reducing the legal limit from  0.5 grams/litre of alcohol in their bloodstream to 0.2.

Policymakers mull EU alcohol marketing law

Alcohol consumption among young people increases as a result of advertising campaigns and the EU should promote more responsible marketing, stakeholders agreed this week. But responsibility for dealing with the issue lies with member states and the European Commission has no intention of harmonising legislation in this regard. 

In Romania, the Forum for Responsible Drinking (RFRD) decided to take action after UNICEF figures revealed that one out of five teenagers in the country has experienced being drunk.

“We went into off-trade to repeat this information as we think this is really the place where minors can access drinks,” Stefania Harabagiu from the organisation.

Shortly after, RFRD kicked off a partnership with Carrefour and other supermarkets which enabled the anti-underage-drinking campaign to reach 400 shops.

Eventually, the campaign which ran during the binge-drinking season in November and December was noticed by 20% of those who bought alcohol during those months.

A similar success story can be found in neighbouring Bulgaria, where the campaign “Spirits are not for minors” was launched between the trade association APITSD and the supermarket chains  Lidl and Kaufland, which reached 8,000 visitors per day over three months.

Member states in December 2015 urged the Commission to publish a new strategy on how member states can prevent alcohol-related harm.

The strategy, which is expected to be published by the end of this year, is likely to include recommendations on how to prevent underage-drinking and drinking and driving among young people.

The European Commission's first strategy to tackle alcohol-related harm expired in 2012. The Council and members of the European Parliament have called on the EU's executive and Health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis to publish a new one by the end of 2016 at the latest.

  • Spring 2016: Commission to publish report on nutrition labelling for alcoholic drinks.
  • Spring 2016: The High Court in Edinburgh to determine whether the Scottish government is allowed to introduce a minimum pricing on alcohol.
  • End of 2016: Commission to publish its EU alcohol-related harm strategy.

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