Samvel Avagyan

Armenia’s Alcohol Lobby Seeks Easing of TV Adverting Restrictions

Armenian MPs with connections to the alcohol import business have introduced legislation that would remove bans on TV advertising for these products.

Arman Sahakyan, one of the MPs who drafted the bill, is the president of a company called Sovrano, which imports alcoholic beverages, and was the president of the cigarette importer Vidis Distribution from 2008 t0 2012. Vidis was the official representative of Philip Morris International in Armenia.

According to the Armenian government’s website, all the MPs who drafted the legislation belong to the ruling Republican Party of Armenia.

MP Samvel Farmanyan, who introduced the bill, represents a media holding group in Armenia.

What we thus have is a working lobbying uniting the alcoholic beverage industry and the media.

If passed, the bill would allow for TV advertising of beverages containing more than 20% alcohol from 10pm to 6am.

The bill’s sponsors argue that advertising during these hours would not target minors and would pull in one billion AMD in advertising revenue for the financially strapped TV stations.

Right now, legislation only allows for TV advertising of brandy produced in Armenia; this in order to spur domestic production of the beverage. Current laws do allow for strong alcoholic beverages to be advertised in newspapers, except on the first and last pages, and in magazines – except for cover ads.

When compared to other countries, restrictions on alcohol ads aren’t that strict. As of January 1 of this year, even Russia has banned all alcoholic beverage ads, including beer, in the print media. Online advertising for strong alcoholic drink has also been banned.

The World Health Organization has adopted several laws obligating all member states to decrease the damaging influence and role of alcohol in the spread of non-infectious diseases.

It is believed that alcohol aids in the spread of non-infectious diseases, and in the increase of assaults and traffic accidents.

Based on this, Armenia’s Ministry of Health has publicly opposed the bill.

Surprisingly, during a January 9 cabinet session, Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan defended the bill.

The pluses and minuses of alcohol advertising

Evidence has shown that the drastic and unsubstantiated restriction of alcohol leads to the growth of the black market trade and the spread of drugs.

The medical sector has yet to prove that a moderate use of alcohol poses a health risk. In fact, some studies argue the opposite.

Nevertheless, when it comes to alcohol advertising, the minuses outweigh the pluses.

Not everything being sold in Armenia stores is high quality. In fact, many of the hundreds of vodka brands on the store shelves are not as advertised - they’re rip-offs of better known brands.

Do we actually want advertising for low quality and potentially dangerous alcoholic beverages?

Let’s face facts. Government monitoring of what is being sold to consumers here in Armenia is spotty at best.

There are large quantities of sham vodka being imported to Armenia that is bottled in Russia. And it’s freely sold in stores and supermarkets.

I would suggest that the government prioritizes the regulation of the alcohol beverage market before even considering a relaxation of the advertising laws.

Otherwise, the consequences could be disastrous.