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Estonia's alcohol advertising debate

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28.02.2024 - In the heart of Estonia, a crucial debate unfolds, casting a spotlight on the intersection of public health and economic interests. The Ministry of Economics has proposed amendments to the Advertising Act, sparking widespread nationwide discourse. At the core of this debate lies the proposal to shift towards self-regulation in all advertising, including alcohol advertising. This move has drawn sharp criticism from public health advocates.

Enter the VTK (Preliminary Drafting Intention) — a document used in the legislative process to outline the intentions behind a bill before it is formally drafted. This document allows input and comments from other ministries, societal groups, and various stakeholders, facilitating a participatory approach to the legislative process. However, the process has been met with scepticism from different groups, particularly the Estonian Alcohol Policy Advocacy Coalition (ETAK).

In the proposed VTK, one recommended option for consideration is the concept of "full self-regulation." Under this model, the Advertising Act would retain only general principles, bans on advertising certain products and goods, and provisions mandatory due to EU directives. To implement this, an appropriate delegation norm must be added to the Advertising Act. This approach suggests a significant shift towards industry-led regulation, potentially transforming the landscape of alcohol advertising by minimizing government-imposed restrictions and emphasizing industry responsibility and self-governance.

ETAK, representing a broad alliance of NGOs such as the Estonian Medical Association, Union for Child Welfare, and Psychiatrists' Society, has emerged as a vocal critic of the proposed amendments. Armed with data and driven by a commitment to public health, ETAK challenges the premise of self-regulation, arguing that it could lead to increased alcohol consumption among vulnerable populations, particularly the youth. Their response to the VTK underscores a deep concern for the societal impacts of loosening advertising restrictions, advocating instead for policies that prioritize the well-being of Estonian society over industry profits and express support for a total ban on alcohol advertising.

This ongoing debate raises critical questions about the role of advertising in alcohol consumption and its broader societal impacts. Advocates for stricter regulation point to evidence linking exposure to alcohol advertising with increased drinking behaviours, underscoring the need for robust regulations that safeguard public health.

As Estonia navigates the complexities of alcohol policy amid proposed legislative changes, the situation underscores the problematic balance between health priorities and economic interests. The division of responsibilities between the Ministry of Economics, which oversees the Alcohol Act and Advertising Act in Estonia, and the Health Ministry, which handles broader alcohol policy, illustrates policy implementation challenges. This division can lead to conflicts, especially under different political leaderships, highlighting the need for a unified approach under the Health Ministry for effective policy execution. It's also important to consider the Finnish example in this context. Historically, Finland has managed alcohol policy under the Ministry of Health, emphasizing public health perspectives. However, the new Finnish government's goal to conduct an independent investigation into transferring alcohol policy regulation from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health to the Ministry of Employment and the Economy signals a potential shift. This move could reflect broader trends in balancing public health concerns with economic and industry considerations in alcohol policy management.

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