Are booze-mas trees ethical?

Is it right and ethical to place a “Christmas tree” made of bottles of alcohol in the supermarket's food department? The law, at least for now, does not prohibit it. The advertisement is legal, but it is not quite ethical, given that Latvia is trying to reduce alcohol consumption, experts surveyed by Latvian Radio on December 1 said.

As Christmas approaches, not only can you hear Christmas songs in stores, but you can also see a variety of decorations designed to give shoppers a festive feel. True, 'festive' can have different tinges to it.

“I went into Stockmann and was just embarrassed to see a tree, which is a Christmas decor but was made of bottles of alcohol,” Džena Andersone, a lawyer and writer, told Latvian Radio.

A Christmas tree has been set up using empty green bottles of whiskey stacked on a rack, which has the trademark logo of the item at the top.

According to Andersone, such decoration is a deliberate degradation of festivities and inviting people to consume alcohol. If the country is struggling to reduce high alcohol consumption, this is definitely not the way.

“This festival, this tree - it involves children going to this tree, they recite poems, they get some kind of gifts. How do you explain to a child why this tree is made of bottles of alcohol, it is shown to be supposedly the norm, and then it happens that at other festivals, if it was Easter, then we would make a cross or Easter bunny or Easter eggs out of bottles of alcohol,“ Andersone said.

The department store Stockmann provided a written reply to Latvian Radio: “The said “Christmas tree” is in this case a promotional shelf designed by our collaborator in the form of a spruce. Production of a partner that can be found in the department's assortment. Drinks are distributed according to generally accepted product advertising standards, and similar types of advertising activity are not unusual during the festive period and are also found in other retail places.”

The Consumer Rights Protection Center does not see violations here.

Aivita Putniņa, an associate professor and socio-anthropologist at the University of Latvia, pointed out that this is more ethical than a matter of law, which shows how deep alcohol consumption is rooted in festive traditions. 

“Empirical research shows that this type of exposure for children, let alone for adult people who maybe have an alcohol problem, then [initially create] such an emotional feeling that it's a tree and that it's something nice, and then that bottle of alcohol creates conflicting feelings and an impression, and thinking about such more easily influenced groups, it would probably have been more sensible to avoid that kind of installation,” Putniņa said.

Currently, in various laws, the Ministry of Health, along with other ministries, has tabled several proposals to reduce alcohol consumption and the consequences of its use in the country, such advertising restrictions.

Latvia has the highest absolute consumption of alcohol in society among the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development or OECD countries – 12.2 liters per inhabitant.

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