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France steps up anti drink publicity laws

Since I am not currently drinking, I can only write about wine in an academic sense.

I have been on the wagon for at least 10 days now and it has been relatively easy, once you get through the first day and that early evening 'I really should be treating myself to something at this point' feeling.

Wine, happily and sadly, is alcohol like any other alcoholic drink - despite the fact that many French people will tell you that wine is food, or say, in response to the statement that one is not drinking, "But you’ll have a glass of wine?" Or "But you'll have some red with your cheese?"

"Well actually no, what I meant was I am not drinking," one ends up saying lamely, again. Then they look at you, as though you are a genuine alcoholic, or just mad, and ask why? This is the French, mind you, who tend to avoid personal questions.

I explain it is an after Christmas, de-tox sort of thing. And then... they laugh. And get all coy about how much one might have drunk for Christmas. It's exhausting and you are lucky if you get a Perrier at the end of it. I am tending to avoid going out if I can.

The surprising thing is that last week the French were getting a bit of reputation for being anti alcohol. The dynamic in this direction is being led by the French anti alcohol lobby, which recently scored two wins against the alcohol industry.

One in the form of a ruling against a newspaper editorial on Champagne – which was described as breaking the barrier between editorial and advertising. And two against their old foe from Rugby World Cup 2007 days, Heineken, which demands that they pull all the publicity from their French website by the end of January, or face fines.

Quite something for a country that is seen to be all about wine - that is until you find out about the rapid decline in domestic consumption since the Sixties. A decline that is blamed in much of the land on the strict anti drink advertising and anti drink driving laws. No wonder exporting is the new black.

On Saturday 20th January, the National Association of Elected Members of the Wine and the Vine (ANEV Association Nationale des Elus de la Vigne et du Vin) hit back in a very carefully worded press release. I had never heard of them before but it seems to be group of senators and elected officials with an interest in wine.

They said, quoting B. Escoffier – who is not the famous cook, that is A. Escoffier, I don't know who B. Escoffier is – but anyway they quoted him as saying: "We talk of wine as others talk of love, the fact that one talks of wine does not incite alcoholism, just as to talk of love does not incite AIDS."

As Heineken is appealing the ruling – results are due at the end of the month - they might want to think about using that quote.

And they might want to mention another advertising controversy that kicked off this week in the form of a 300,000 euro government poster campaign to inform women of their sexual rights.

The tagline runs: "Sexuality, contraception, abortion. One right, my choice, our liberty." (Sexualité, contraception, avortement. Un droit, mon choix, notre liberté.)

The pro-life group 'Life Parade' says it is shocked by the move to advertise abortion 'in the same way one might advertise a ski holiday'.

If this was bumper sticker country, they might be printing off something right now along the lines of: 'Don't arrest me, I'm not drunk, I'm going for an abortion'. But would that fit on a bumper sticker? How about 'Don't drink, abort'.

Then again, Heineken might just not want to go down that road.

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