French doctors have appealed to President Jacques Chirac to oppose changes in wine advertising rules. The physicians warned yesterday (18 October) that the changes would lead to more deaths from alcohol-related illnesses and drink-driving.

The National Association for the Prevention of Alcoholism and Addiction, a state-funded medical service employing hundreds of doctors and psychiatrists, urged Chirac to oppose measures approved by lawmakers last week that would lift some restrictions on alcohol advertising.

"We're calling on the president, whose main policy priorities are undermined by this vote, to make it clear that public health comes first," association director Patrick Elineau said.

The measure, which still needs Senate approval, would allow ads to mention the colour, smell and taste of wine and the grape varieties used to make it.

Health Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy also criticised the vote by deputies, saying it "cast doubt on the government's entire public health policy."

Chirac's office declined to comment, saying it had not yet received the anti-alcoholism group's concerns in writing.

On his return to office in 2002, Chirac promised action to tackle France's poor road safety record and cut the death toll from traffic accidents - many caused by drunk driving. A two-year crackdown followed, during which road deaths have fallen sharply.

But after last week's parliamentary debate, Chirac's ruling conservatives voted overwhelmingly to back an amendment relaxing the advertising rules. The planned change is aimed at helping France's struggling winemakers.

The Senate's second reading and final vote were expected in January.

Since 1991, advertisements for alcoholic drinks have been allowed to contain only factual information about a product, including its name, manufacturer, alcohol content and origin.