Is French Wine under attack?

Wednesday, 9 October, 2013
Suzanne Mustacich, Wine Spectator
In France, is wine a part of national identity and a valuable contributor to the economy, or a danger to public health? A new bill before the French senate claims the latter, calling for higher taxes on alcoholic beverages, stronger health warnings on labels and new restrictions on advertising and marketing.
The proposal has angered French vignerons, and they have organized a lobbying campaign to fight back. “We will not accept being treated like drug dealers when wine is part of the same French gastronomic meal that was classified as an intangible heritage by UNESCO,” said Bernard Farges, president of the Bordeaux wine council (CIVB). “The 500,000 people from the vineyards and wine trade are launching a national campaign to mobilize against this moral and financial pressure.”

The new health bill, championed by the ANPAA (National Association for the Prevention of Alcoholism and Addiction), proposes a "behavior tax," which is allowed on a product considered dangerous for your health and is meant to deter consumption. The health bill also proposes changing the current government warning on labels for wine and other alcoholic beverages from “the abuse of alcohol is dangerous for health” to “alcohol is dangerous for your health. ”

“The consumption of alcohol is not an everyday necessity. There is no consumption without risk,” said ANPAA director Patrick Elineau. “Studies have shown that substantial taxes on a product diminishes consumption.”

Dr. Alain Rigaud, ANPAA president and a Reims-based psychiatrist specializing in addiction, told Wine Spectator that the French were drinking less, and more specifically drinking less cheap wine, but that they still had a higher risk of liver disease than their European neighbors. “This is a public health problem. Wine and spirits are good for exports and jobs, but we don’t see the social cost.”

Rigaud said the behavior tax would not deter grand cru drinkers but would curtail the habits of bottom-shelf drinkers who reach for wine at $4 a bottle or less. “They are not drinking for the pleasure of tasting wine. They drink for the alcohol,” said Rigaud. The proposed tax per bottle would be tied to its alcohol content.

The ANPAA also wants to put an end to the use of social media, citing Twitter, Facebook and blogs, to talk about and promote wine, particularly when it’s associated with parties, success, sports and sex.       

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