Govt approves groundbreaking legislation to tackle alcohol misuse – Varadkar
- Minimum Unit Pricing to tackle cheap alcohol set at 10c/gram of alcohol
- Strict separation of alcohol products in outlets
- Compulsory health labelling on drinks requiring grams, calorie count, health warnings and a link to a public health website on alcohol containers
- Requirement to display health warnings and a link to a public health website and to provide access to information on grams and calories in pubs & off-licences
- Ads to be strictly informative about the product concerned & subject to criminal sanction
- Ban on advertising near schools, playgrounds & public transport
- 9pm broadcasting watershed for alcohol adverts
- Prohibition of price-based promotions and general restrictions on promotions
Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has today published far-reaching legislation to tackle Ireland’s ongoing problem with alcohol misuse and reduce consumption.
The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill treats this as a public health issue for the first time and aims to reduce the damage that alcohol causes to individuals and to society. Its goal is to reduce average annual alcohol consumption in Ireland from 11 to 9.1 litres per person by 2020.
Speaking at the formal launch, Minister Varadkar said: “Ireland needs to change its damaging attitude to alcohol. There’s a huge difference between having a drink on occasion with friends, and indulging in regular binge drinking. The costs are huge: from the damage to personal health and to society, absenteeism, the burden placed on the health services, public disorder and violence, traffic accidents, and the associated mental health consequences.”
“The evidence about Ireland’s drinking habits is shocking. Four out of ten drinkers typically engage in binge drinking. This Bill addresses alcohol as a public health issue for the first time by tackling price, availability, marketing, advertising, and labelling. By taking this approach and confronting the problem in a wide range of ways, I am confident that we can make a huge difference to public health. We have talked about these measures for long enough. Now is the time to make it happen.”
The Bill sets out measures in the following areas:
- a minimum unit price of 10c per gram of alcohol in alcohol products, to eliminate very cheap alcohol from all stores and shops;
- structural separation of alcohol products from other products in outlets, either by containment in a unit or a separate area of the store, so that it’s not sold like a normal groceries product;
- Prohibition of price-based promotions and tougher restrictions on targeted promotions such as ‘happy-hour’;
- Health warnings and calorie labelling on alcohol products, with corresponding warning signs and information in pubs and off-licences;
- Regulation of advertising, marketing of alcohol and sponsorship, with criminal sanctions applying for the first time;
- An enforcement regime with inspections by Authorised HSE officers and penalties for non-compliance, including fixed payment notices.
Minister Varadkar added: “This Bill is being published as part of a suite of measures under the Healthy Ireland framework to improve our health as individuals, and as a nation. The Healthy Ireland approach is the only way that we can make long term improvements to our health, by encouraging people to take responsibility for their own actions. Ireland is consistently one of the top five EU countries for alcohol consumption. Harmful drinking is widespread, particularly for those under 35 years of age. It is linked to higher rates of suicide, sexual and physical assault, road traffic accidents, absenteeism and neglect of children. The Bill will be published shortly and we aim to have it in the Oireachtas before the end of the year.”
Public Health (Alcohol) Bill – Specific details
Minimum Unit Pricing for Alcohol Products (MUP)
The Bill makes it illegal to sell or advertise for sale alcohol at a price below 10c per gram of alcohol. This is aimed at those who drink in a harmful and hazardous manner and is designed to prevent the sale of alcohol at very cheap prices. Evidence shows that this measure will reduce the burden of harm from alcohol. Its effects will be felt most keenly by high risk drinkers.
The price of alcohol is directly linked to consumption levels and levels of alcohol related harms and costs i.e. as the price increases, consumption rates and harms decrease. The University of Sheffield has estimated that this measure alone could save €1.7 billion over 20 years by reducing healthcare costs, crime and policing, reduced absenteeism, and improving quality of life. It should also have some immediate effects on health costs, crime costs and absenteeism.
MUP is able to target cheaper alcohol relative to its strength because the minimum price is determined by and is directly proportional to the amount of pure alcohol in the drink. MUP is not expected to affect the price of alcohol in the on-trade. The University of Sheffield study reported that the alcohol products most affected by this policy are those that are currently being sold very cheaply, often below cost prices, in the off-trade, i.e. supermarkets and off-licences.
Health Labelling of Alcohol Products
‘Standard Drink’ or units are widely misunderstood by the general public. The National Alcohol Diary Survey concluded that the Irish population underestimate the amount that they drink, reporting only 39% of their general alcohol consumption.
Labels on alcohol products will have to detail:
- The amount of pure alcohol as measured in grams and the calorie count;
- Health warnings (including for pregnancy);
- A link to a public health website to be set up by the HSE, giving information on alcohol and related harms.
On and off licences will be required to display a notice with health warnings indicating that grams and calorie content for ‘poured drinks’ can be found in a documents available upon request.
Alcohol products will no longer be displayed like ‘every day’, ‘ordinary’ products. Stores will have to choose to store alcohol either in a separate area of the store, or in a closed cabinet. A premises which sells alcohol products will be required to separate the alcohol from ‘ordinary’ or every day products by:
- confining the sale of alcohol to a single area in the premises which is separated, through which alcohol products are not visible, and to which customers do not have to pass through to buy “ordinary” products; or
- a closed storage unit(s) which contains only alcohol products.
Alcohol products behind check-out points will need to be concealed. Point of sale advertising of alcohol products will now be confined to the designated display area or the inside of the storage cabinet. These provisions can be easily monitored and enforced by Environmental Health Officers (EHOs).
The Bill will allow restrictions or bans to be imposed on the sale of alcohol products at a reduced price or free of charge, promotions targeted to a particular category of persons, and ‘happy hour’ type promotions, to toughen up existing provisions. This gives the option of targeting promotions like a ‘students’ night’ or extended promotions for ‘happy days’.
Advertising, marketing and sponsorship
The Bill restricts advertisements so they can only give specific information about the product. This will mean that advertisements will be less likely to glamorise alcohol or making it appealing to children. Alcohol-related advertisements will be restricted to films with an 18 cert only.
These measures will be subject to prosecutions under the criminal justice system for the first time.
Warnings in relation to harmful effects of alcohol consumption in general and during pregnancy will need to be included in any advertisement. The Bill will prohibit advertising in certain places including in or near:
- a school;
- an early years service;
- a playground owned or maintained by a local authority;
- a train or bus station;
- a designated stopping place at which passengers may board or alight from buses, or light railway vehicles.
The Bill also sets out the criteria for advertising in cinemas and publications and prohibits advertising in sports grounds for events where the majority of competitors or participants are children or directly on a sports area for all events (e.g. on the actual pitch, the race track, tennis court etc.). A restriction on merchandising of children’s clothing is also provided for. The restrictions on alcohol advertising apply to domestic and foreign publications.
These provisions will be reviewed after three years from commencement to gauge their effectiveness.
The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland Code will include an evening broadcasting watershed for alcohol-related. The Broadcasting Act 2009 will be amended to ensure that the Minister of Health is consulted on all health-related aspects of the Code, and including alcohol in the list of products which are subject of public concern in respect of the general public health interests of children.
The Bill will be enforced by authorised officers appointed by the HSE.
Opinion of the Advocate General, European Court of Justice
The opinion of the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice on MUP for alcohol products was published on 3rd September 2015. This case was initiated by Scottish alcohol producers in response to the Scottish Government’s introduction of minimum unit pricing. The Advocate General’s opinion indicates that MUP may be compatible with European Law only if it can be shown to be more effective than other alternative measures. The Department of Health has, and will continue to work closely with the Office of the Attorney General.
The General Scheme of the Bill can be viewed here, the Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) can be read here.