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Sweden - Commercial Communication

Advertising of alcohol containing no more than 15 vol. % is allowed under certain conditions in printed media. Up until 2003, alcohol advertising was banned in all shapes and forms.


Alcohol commercials must apply special moderation and cannot target young people under the age of 25. Printed ads must carry warning texts. A white paper on alcohol marketing in digital media (in Swedish but with a summary in English) was presented to the Swedish  Government in January 2018, which might be the first step towards stricter regulation for online marketing in the future.


Swedish public white papers, shortened SOU, usually precede any legislative proposal and carry a lot of clout in the legislative process. The white paper on alcohol marketing in digital media had the specific tasks of investigating how children and young people could be better protected from alcohol marketing online. It was carried out by a government-appointed committee of specialists on public health and media law, led by Ingeborg Simonsson, District Court Judge and one of Sweden’s leading experts on competition law.


The white paper cites the strong scientific evidence of the adverse effects of alcohol marketing on drinking behaviours, especially for children and young people. It also looks into the specificities of online alcohol marketing on the Swedish market. Although it does not find examples of more predatory types of advertising, it recognises that online alcohol marketing is nonetheless very prevalent. According to numbers cited in the paper, 68 per cent of 16-24 year-olds had been exposed to alcohol advertising online in 2013, a higher exposure rate than those aged 25-34. The white paper thereby concludes that there is a need for statutory restrictions to alcohol marketing online and puts forward the proposal to ban commercial advertising on social media.


Sweden/UK case

Since the 80’s/90’s a significant amount of alcohol marketing have been coming into Sweden from channels broadcasting from abroad (but in Swedish, with Swedish programmes and Swedish targeted advertising). Because of the country-of-origin principle, Swedish authorities have not been able to enforce these laws.


In February 2018 the European Commission has decided, on the basis of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD), that the Swedish intention to impose their ban on alcohol advertising on two broadcasters based in the UK and broadcasting in Sweden is not compatible with EU law.


“The AVMSD is based on the principle of the country of origin, according to which broadcasters are subject solely to the rules of the Member State where they are established, including when they broadcast to other EU countries. The AVMSD does not prohibit alcohol advertising but allows the Member States to apply stricter rules, including a full ban, on broadcasters under their jurisdiction. Such a ban exists in Sweden,” European Commissions decision states. “In order to impose such a ban on the UK broadcasters, Sweden should have demonstrated, under the specific procedure contained in Article 4 of the AVMS directive, that the broadcasters in question established themselves in the UK in order to circumvent such rules. The burden of proof lies with the Member State and the Commission found in this case that Sweden failed to prove circumvention on the part of the two broadcasters.”

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