Italian Alcohol Advertising Regulation and Enforcement

By Beccaria, Franca | Contemporary Drug Problems, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Italian Alcohol Advertising Regulation and Enforcement


Beccaria, Franca, Contemporary Drug Problems


In European countries alcohol advertising is regulated by two channels: The law and self-regulation. At present in Italy both control systems exist, even if in reality only the self-code works. After a debate that lasted for more than ten years the recent law on alcohol (2001) has not introduced significant innovations.1 Meanwhile, alcohol advertising has become more and more aggressive. Nowadays alcohol advertising is forbidden only in a few situations: TV programs devoted to children, on TV from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m for spirits ads, and in environments mainly attended by underage people. Otherwise alcohol advertising should respect the restrictions indicated in the self-regulation code. These limitations regard only the contents of the advertising. The article examines how content regulations on Italian alcohol advertising and promotion work in different media channels (TV, radio, magazines, billboards, environments attended by adolescents). The Italian self-regulation code and other laws are described, along with the complaint procedures. Content control in alcohol advertising does not seem to work because the rules are formulated in vague terms and therefore are open to various interpretations. Thus it is too difficult to decide what is or what it is not inducing the "audience to think that use of alcoholic drinks increases clearness of mind, physical and sexual health," or that the message is addressed to minors. Although research on effects of advertising on alcohol consumption does not show clear results, following the Council of the European Union Recommendation (2001), contents regulation should be much more restricted to ensure that alcoholic beverages are not designed or promoted to appeal to children and adolescents. There remains the more radical alternative, namely, to forbid alcohol advertising, at least on TV networks.

Drinking portrayals and alcohol advertising are common in popular media and young people are highly exposed to them. Although some studies found that exposure to alcohol advertising is related to increases in drinking among youth (Saffer & Dhaval, 2003; Unger, Schuster, Zogg, Dent & Stacy 2003; Saffer, 2000; Pirisi, 2000; Austin & Knaus, 2000), other studies produced mixed and inconclusive findings (Ellickson, Collins, Hambarsoomians & McCaffrey 2005; Flemming, Thorson & Atkin 2004; Saffer, 2002).

In their recent economic analysis Snyder & Dave (2006) find that alcohol advertising-the majority of which is aimed at consumers of beer and liquor, not wine-"has a positive effect" on whether youth drink at all and on how much young people imbibe. The relationship is especially pronounced for underage female drinkers.

Recent longitudinal research and studies that used techniques to control for reciprocal effects suggest that exposure to, attention to, and liking of alcohol advertising may influence children and adolescents' drinking beliefs and behaviors (Grube & Waiters, 2005).

Other studies point out the relationship of alcohol advertising and consumption styles, looking at the values conveyed in ads contents and at the culture they express. The alcohol industry tries to find new consumption situations for Italian people, outside the well-provided mealtime table. Advertising seems to be able to capture some aspects of the social reality (e.g. female and young people drinking) and to exclude others (a nourishing style) (Beccaria, 2001a).

Even if in Italy the consumption of alcoholic beverages is still strongly integrated into daily life as well as part of social life (Allamani, Cipriani & Prina 2006), it is important to note, in recent years, a progressive internationalization of consumption, with a consequent reduction of wine consumption as part of everyday life, in favor of a greater concentration of drinking on the weekend and the growing importance of alcoholic drinks which are not typically Italian (Beccaria, 1997). In the process of transition from a "wet" drinking culture to a new model of drinking, "damp drinking," advertising can participate actively, as one of the agents, in the process of redefining consumption patterns. …

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