The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

France says car ads must come with a caveat: Walk, bike or take public transit instead

A car carrier leaves a Renault plant in Aubergenville, west of Paris, in 2020. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

In France, advertisements urging people to buy the latest Peugeots or Renaults will soon come with a caveat urging viewers or listeners to walk or bike instead.

Under a new regulation slated to take effect in March, French automakers will be required to include messages on car advertisements that encourage viewers to seek more environmentally friendly travel alternatives.

Automakers will be able to choose between three messages, according to the rule published in France’s official journal: “Consider carpooling,” “For short trips, opt for walking or cycling" or “Use public transportation for everyday trips.” At the end of the message, advertisers must affix the hashtag “#SeDéplacerMoinsPolluer” — or #MovePolluteLess.

The requirement is to apply to ads distributed on radio, television, in theaters, on the Internet and on big screens as well as to print ads. If advertisers fail to include the message, they can be fined up to about $56,000.

Similar measures are already in place in France for food advertisements, which instruct French consumers to cut back on junk food and eat more fruits and vegetables.

In countries across the world, tobacco ads often carry admonitions that smoking can cause cancer and death — and in France, they’re completely prohibited. The country began to require plain cigarette packaging in 2016. (Regulations around advertising are particularly lax in the United States, one of the few countries to allow pharmaceutical companies to advertise directly to consumers.)

France’s move follows years of lobbying from environmental groups, which have called for a ban on car ads. Beginning on March 1, car manufacturers must also include a vehicle’s carbon-dioxide emissions class in promotions, French newspaper Le Monde reported. Ads for the highest-polluting vehicles will be banned beginning in 2028.

“Decarbonizing transportation does not only mean switching to an electric motor. It also means using public transportation or cycling when possible,” French Ecological Transition Minister Barbara Pompili wrote on Twitter last week, commenting on the new advertising rules.

The measures come as France ramps up efforts to combat climate change. France’s High Council on Climate warned over the summer that the country was not on track to meet its pledge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent compared with 1990 levels by the end of the decade.

Transportation-related emissions make up a quarter of the European Union’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the European Environment Agency.

Limiting the use of polluting cars is one pillar of France’s approach to tackling climate change. Major climate legislation passed over the summer includes provisions to phase out advertising for gasoline and other fossil fuel energy, and to provide subsidies for drivers who swap out polluting cars for cleaner models.

Carmakers aired mixed reactions in French media to the upcoming advertising requirements. Volkswagen told French media it would follow the regulations, as did Hyundai’s French division.

“I am taking note, we will adapt,” Lionel French Keogh, chief executive of Hyundai in France, told Agence France-Presse. “Zero-emission transportation is the future.”

But he complained that the measure “stigmatized the automobile” and was “a bit counterproductive” since it does not distinguish between types of cars, even as the government tries to incentivize the use of electric vehicles.

Major automakers Renault and Stellantis, which sells the Peugeot brand, and U.S. carmaker Ford, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Read more:

Europe’s hottest summer on record would have been ‘almost impossible’ without human-induced climate change

Europe’s climate plans could provoke friction with U.S.

France moves to combat climate change by making flights more expensive