Alcohol ad ban fear as court upholds Loi Evin

France's ban on advertising alcohol on TV has won the backing of the European Court, sparking fears of more clampdowns on drinks promotion across the European Union.

In a defeat for the European Commission, the court ruled that France was entitled to continue to ban TV channels from screening shots of billboards advertising alcohol at sporting events.

Industry lobbyists are alarmed that the decision will not only increase costs for drinks companies expanding into new markets but encourage pressure groups pressing for a complete ban on alcohol advertising across Europe.

Rejecting the Commission's claim that the 14-year-old Loi Evin law stifled free trade, the court ruled that a ban on the indirect advertising of alcohol was compatible with EU law and justified as a measure to protect public health.

The judgment is also a blow for Bacardi, which had sued the French TV station TF1 for allegedly asking sports rights companies to prevent foreign football clubs from renting perimeter advertising to alcohol manufacturers.

Andrew Brown, the Advertising Association's director-general, admitted the court's decision had made the Loi Evin virtually impregnable. "It's a strange judgment because it is disproportionate," he said. "It's hardly likely that some perimeter alcohol ads from matches placed abroad and screened in France are going to make thousands of people reach for the bottle."

Dominic Lyle, the director-general of the European Association of Communication Agencies, said: "The fact that the Loi Evin has been found to be in accordance with EU law bodes ill and is bound to send a positive message to pressure groups."

Legal experts believe the ruling could make selling centralised sports sponsorship on a pan-European basis unattractive. Stephen Hornsby, of the media law firm Simkins, said: "What the court seems to be saying is that member states are entitled to counter sport's potency as a medium for a message where alcohol is concerned."

- Leader, p26.