As from 2 September 2019, stricter rules will apply to alcohol advertising in Belgium, requiring prior advice and imposing higher fines. However, according to a recent study, a general ban on alcohol advertising is needed.

The stricter rules are part of the Convention on the advertising and marketing of alcoholic drinks concluded between representatives of the sector and the Belgian Advertising Council in 2005 and revised in 2013. The objective of the Convention is to provide better information to consumers about the responsible consumption of alcohol. The recent amendment brings the following three stricter measures:

  • Prior advice: the members of the Federation of Belgian Brewers and the Federation Vinum et Spiritus will have to request advice from the Jury for Ethical Practices in Advertising (JEP) before launching their national radio/TV advertising campaigns and cinema advertising. Until now, such prior advice could be requested on a voluntary basis. Advice is not rendered for free but costs 250 € (excl. VAT) for members and 500 € (excl. VAT) for non-members.
  • Fines: JEP will have the power to sanction the members of the two federations for repeated infringements during the same year with a fine of up to 10,000 €. The amount of the fine will depend on, among others, the size and scope of the advertising campaign, the size of the advertiser, the seriousness of the offence, the degree of usefulness of an early termination of an advertising campaign, the degree of cooperation of the advertiser, the number of violations of the Convention within the past year and recidivism.
  • Involvement of the Ministry of Health: a representative from the Federal Public Service Public Health will be invited to participate as an expert in the meetings of JEP which relate exclusively to matters regarding the advertising of alcoholic beverages.

These new rules will be applicable from 2 September 2019.

For some, however, these new rules do not go far enough. Only a few days after the announcement of the stricter rules, a study commissioned by the Belgian Science Policy Office (Belspo) and conducted by the University of Ghent was published. The study goes much further by calling for a general ban on alcohol marketing. Such ban is deemed necessary as, according to the study, the exposure to alcohol advertising has considerable effects on people’s alcohol consumption behavior and subsequent damaging health effects. The study notes that a total ban lacks the support of most stakeholders and therefore suggests as the alternative to regulate alcohol advertising in the possibly most restrictive way. It also recommends to implement statutory regulation of alcohol advertising which could further contribute to reducing the exposure to alcohol advertising and harmful consumption. So far, the study has not been received with much enthusiasm but the issue of alcohol advertising is definitely a hot topic to be followed closely in the near future.