Speeches

Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 – Dáil Éireann Second Stage Speech by the Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD

Tuesday 6 February 2018

I am pleased to be here today to introduce the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill to this House.

This Bill was actively engaged with by the members ofSeanad Eireann and I look forward to further constructive debate in this House.

With this Bill we are, for the first time, addressing alcohol as a public health matter.

In that context, the overall objective of this Bill is to contribute to the reduction of the harmful use of alcohol in our country.
Alcohol consumption in our country is not low. Ireland is the fourth heaviest drinking nation in the OECD in terms of the quantity of alcohol consumed.

Recently published figures from the Central Statistics Office show that Irish people between the ages of 18 and 24 are top in the EU for binge drinking, that is drinking six or more drinks on one occasion. Ireland also ranks joint third for binge drinking in a World Health Organisation analysis of 194 countries.

Alcohol consumption in our country is not falling. In 2015 it was at 10.9 litres of pure alcohol per capita but figures from the Office of the Revenue Commissioners indicate that our consumption levels increased in 2016 to 11.46 litres.

The more we drink, the higher our risk of developing life changing illnesses such as alcoholic liver diseases or alcohol related cancers. A 2012 analysis found that one in eight breast cancers in Ireland in the years 2001 to 2010 were attributable to alcohol and alcohol was responsible for at least 83 deaths every month in 2011.

When it comes to our children, the most recent European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs found thatseven out of ten 15-to-16 year olds had already drunk alcohol and more than 3 out of 10 had been drunk in the past.

The same survey found that a quarter of Irish girls and nearly a fifth of Irish boys reported having been injured or involved in an accident due to alcohol.

Research studies show consistently that exposure to alcohol advertising is associated with an increased likelihood that children will start to drink or will drink greater quantities if they already do. This Bill sets out measures to create an environment where our children are not exposed to alcohol products or advertising of those products on a daily basis.

The importance of these measures was recognised by the Seanad such that it agreed an amendment to the Long Title of the Bill. This now includes a specific reference to therestrictions on advertising and sponsorship as they relate to children.

I think that we can all agree that it is our duty to protect the children of our country but should we leave it to adults to decide on their own drinking? Certainly, I believe that we must all take personal responsibility for our actions.

However, when the decisions of the individual impact negatively and substantially on all of us as a society, including on our health services and on our social services, we cannot abdicate our responsibility to protect our citizens and our public services.

The cost of time spent in hospital for alcohol-related conditions in 2012 was 1.5 billion euro, or the equivalent of one euro for every 10 euro spent on public health.

If we can reduce alcohol consumption we can reduce those costs. I am sure that many of us in this House would have no difficulty in finding alternative uses for any monies saved in our health service.

In 2013, alcohol-related discharges accounted for more than 160,000 bed days in public hospitals; that is almost 3.6% of all bed days being used for problems that the measures in this Bill are designed to address and to mitigate. If we as legislators can act to prevent those beds from being needed because of the harmful use of alcohol then I believe that we should.

One of the primary objectives of this Bill is to lower our consumption of alcohol so that the human and financial costs of misuse are decreased.

The Bill aims to reduce consumption per capita to 9.1 litres of pure alcohol by 2020, to delay the initiation of alcohol consumption by children and young people and to reduce the harms caused by the misuse of alcohol.

The Bill will not change our culture overnight but it will raise awareness among all of us about the risks associated with alcohol and will provide for practical changes to protect our children and all of our citizens.

I will now take you through the Bill to outline the content ofeach section.

The Bill is divided into three parts. Part 1 is titled “Preliminary and General” and contains sections 1 to 10.

Section 1 sets out the short title of the Bill and the commencement times of the sections after enactment. There are different lead-in times for different sections. The longest lead-in time is three years which applies to the labelling requirements, advertising at events and sponsorship and elements of the advertising requirements.

These long lead-in times are to facilitate those businesses which may have to make changes in order to comply with the new requirements.

Section 2 deals with interpretation and defines some of theterms used in the Bill.

Section 3 provides that the Bill will apply to a club registered under the Registration of Clubs Acts 1904 to 2008.

Section 4 requires that an applicant for a liquor licence must give one month’s written notice in advance to the HSE. The purpose of this provision is to ensure that the HSE has the right to appear and give evidence at a hearing for the granting or renewal of a licence.

Section 5 empowers the Minister for Health of the day to make regulations as provided for under the Act.

Section 6 is a standard provision dealing with expenses.

Section 7 is a standard provision dealing with the service of documents under the Act.

Section 8 sets out the offences under the legislation. A person who commits an offence under the Act will be liable on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding €5,000 or imprisonment for a term up to 6 months, or both.

A person convicted on indictment for certain offences will be liable to a fine not exceeding €100,000 or imprisonment for a term of up to 2 years or both. For other offences a personconvicted on indictment is liable to a fine not exceeding €250,000 or a term of imprisonment of up to 3 years or both.

In proceedings under the Act it is a defence if a person can show that he or she made all reasonable efforts to ensure compliance with the relevant provision.

Section 9 provides that where a person is sold an alcohol product from somewhere outside the State, but that product is despatched within the State, the sale is deemed to have taken place within the State and therefore will be subject to the provisions of the Act.

Section 10 repeals sections 20 and 23 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 2003 and sections 9 and 16 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 2008. Three of those sections deal with promotions in relation to alcohol products and section 9 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 2008 deals with the structural separation of alcohol products in mixed retail outlets. Those sections will be replaced by sections 22 and 23 of the Bill.

Part 2 of the Bill is titled “Alcohol Products” and contains sections 11 to 23.

Section 11 provides for Minimum Unit Pricing. The minimum unit price is set at 10 cent per gram of alcohol. It will be an offence to sell, or advertise for retail sale, alcohol at a price below this set minimum price.

The minimum unit price can be increased by Ministerial Order. The first Order cannot be made until three years after commencement of the section and subsequent Orders can be made only every 18 months. The Minister of the day musttake into account the available expert research when making an Order.

Alcohol products sold in airport duty free shops are exempt from minimum unit pricing for passengers leaving the State.

Minimum unit pricing will target cheaper alcohol relative to its strength because the price is determined by the amount of pure alcohol in the drink. It sets a ‘floor price’ beneath which alcohol cannot legally be sold and targets products that are very cheap relative to their strength.

At a minimum unit price of 10c per gram of alcohol:

• A 500ml can of Guinness will have a minimum price of €1.66.
• A 440ml can of Tesco lager will have a minimum price of €1.32.
• A 750ml bottle of Jacob’s Creek Classic Chardonnay will have a minimum price of €7.52.
• A 700ml bottle of Jameson Whiskey will have a minimum price of €22.09.
• A 500ml can of Dutch Gold will have a minimum price of1.58.
The only product prices affected here are Tesco Lager and Dutch Gold.

For on-licensed premises, and using pub measures, the proposed minimum unit price of 10 cent per gram of alcohol will mean:

• A pint of Heineken will have a minimum price of €2.25.
• A pint of Budweiser will have a minimum price of €1.80.
• A pint of Bulmers cider will have a minimum price of €2.02.
• A measure of Jameson whiskey will have a minimum price of €1.12.

As is clear from these examples the application of a minimum unit price of 10 cent per gram of alcohol will not impact the prices in our pubs, clubs or restaurants.

Section 12 provides for the health labelling of alcohol products and the provision of health information on alcohol products more generally.

It aims to ensure that consumers are provided with health information on alcohol products whether they are purchased in a shop, in a pub or through a website.

The section provides that a label on alcohol products must contain certain health and product information.

The same information must also be provided on a website through which alcohol products are sold and on a documentrequired to be provided with alcohol products contained in reusable containers such as kegs or casks.

The information to be provided to the consumer in those circumstances is:

• three health warnings intended to inform the public of the risks associated with alcohol,
• the quantity of grams of alcohol in the product,
• the energy value or calorie content of the product, and
• details of an alcohol public health website to be established and maintained by the HSE.

The HSE website has already been established and is called “ask about alcohol”. It contains information to help us assess our own level of drinking, explains the health risks of alcohol and offers support and guidance to anyone who wants to cut back on their drinking. It will assist all of us to manage our own health better in relation to alcohol consumption.

Section 12 also provides that licensed premises must display notices in their premises which include:

• the three health warnings intended to inform the public of the risks associated with alcohol,

• details of the alcohol public health website established by the HSE, and

• confirmation that a document is available on request thatsets out the grams of alcohol and the calorie content of each alcohol product sold in a container without a label, for example, draught beer or a glass of wine sold in an on-licensed premises.

The Minister for Health of the day can make regulations prescribing the information to be provided to the consumerand also the manner of its display, for example, the size and colour of the text of the warnings on labels. Any available expert research on the effectiveness of including such information must be taken into account in making the regulations.

My Department commissioned research to inform the manner and form of the health labelling provisions in order to ensure their effectiveness.

These provisions will come into operation 3 years after the commencement of the section and will not apply to alcohol products that are already on the market prior to this section coming into operation.

Sections 13 to 20 provide for restrictions and prohibitions onthe advertising and marketing of alcohol products.

One of the major aims of these provisions is to protect children from continuous exposure to alcohol advertising.

Section 13 relates to the content of advertisements. It provides that some of the information that is required on the labels of alcohol products must also be included in advertisements for alcohol products.

Specifically, advertisements for alcohol products must incorporate the three health warnings intended to inform the public of the risks associated with alcohol and details of thealcohol public health website established by the HSE.

The Minister for Health of the day can make regulations prescribing the form of the warnings in advertisements and the prominence and duration of the warnings in a broadcast advertisement.

Section 13 also provides that the content of advertisements for alcohol products is restricted to any or all of the following:

• An image or reference to:
– an alcohol product or alcohol products
– the country and region of origin of the product
– the method of production of the product
– the premises where the alcohol product was manufactured

• information on whether the products is intended to be diluted and an image of or reference to a non-alcoholic beverage to dilute the product
• the price of the product
• a brand name, trade mark or emblem
• a corporate name and corporate emblem
• a description of the flavour, colour and smell
• the name and address of the manufacturer
• the alcoholic strength by volume of the product
• the quantity of alcohol in grams in the product, and
• the energy value of the product.

In addition the section provides that alcohol products and alcohol use cannot be portrayed in an advertisement for any other product or service. The exceptions are advertisementsfor a licensed premises and an advertisement or public service message from the Road Safety Authority or from the HSE.

Section 14 prohibits advertisements for alcohol products in certain places.

These are:

• in a local authority park or open space,
• in or on a public service vehicle, for example a busor taxi,
• in or on a tram or train,
• in or at a train station or bus station,
• at bus or tram stops,
• in or at a school, including its grounds, or within 200 metres of the perimeter of its grounds,
• a crèche or within 200 metres of its perimeter, or
• at a local authority playground or within 200 metres of its perimeter

For the purposes of this section advertising is defined as the display of posters, billboards, hoardings, placards or other signage.
It does not include an advertisement that is attached to a licensed premises or a premises where alcohol products are manufactured or sold by wholesale.

Alcohol related merchandise that is distributed free of chargein a licensed premises or in a premises where alcohol products are manufactured or sold by wholesale is also excluded from the definition of advertising in this section. In addition, and based on advice from the Office of the Attorney General, an alcohol delivery van or truck which is in any of these locations during the ordinary course of its business would not fall under the definition of advertising in this section.

Section 15 relates to advertising during events. It provides that advertisements for alcohol products are prohibited in or on a sports area while a sports event is taking place.

A sports area is defined as an indoor or outdoor area on which competitors engage in the sporting event such as a football pitch, running track or swimming pool. Alcohol advertisements are not prohibited around the sports area so, for example, advertising on hoardings around a pitch or track during an event will still be allowed.

The advertising of alcohol products is also prohibited at an event aimed particularly at children or at an event where the majority of those taking part are children.

Section 16 prohibits the sponsorship of an event where the majority of those taking part are children, an event aimed particularly at children or an event that involves driving or racing cars or bikes

Sponsorship is defined for the purposes of this section as any form of contribution to an event with the aim or effect of promoting an alcohol product, an alcohol brand or alcohol consumption.

Under section 16 the holder of a license can sponsor an event as long as that sponsorship does not include the promotion of an alcohol product or brand. A pub or other licensed premises can promote its business or premises through sponsorship but it cannot promote a particular alcohol product or brand.

Section 17 provides that children’s clothing, including footwear, which is branded with an alcohol product or which promotes alcohol consumption, cannot be manufactured for sale in the State, sold in the State or imported for sale in the State.

Children’s clothing is defined as clothing which is intended to be worn by a child, for example, clothing with a child’s age on the label.

It is not an offence under the legislation for a parent to purchase such clothing or for a child to wear it.

This section will not apply to children’s clothing placed on the market up to a year after the section comes into operation.

Section 18 provides for restrictions on alcohol advertising in publications.

The advertising space permitted for advertising alcohol products in a publication is restricted to a maximum of 20 per cent of the advertising space in the publication.

Advertisements for alcohol products are prohibited:

• in a publication aimed particularly at children
• in a publication or on a page of a publication which is intended or likely to have a readership of which more than 20 per cent is children
• on the front or back cover of a publication, or
• on the wrapper or other covering of a publication.

A publication cannot be imported for sale in the State if it breaches the provisions relating to advertising in publications or if it contains an advertisement that breaches the requirements on advertisements in section 13 of the Bill.

This section does not apply to publications that are intended for sale or distribution outside the State, that are directed solely at those in the business of selling or distributing alcohol products or specialist publications which are solely about alcohol products.

Publications by or on behalf of specialist off-licences which promote the sale of products in that premises are exempted from some of the requirements also.

Section 19 introduces a broadcast watershed for alcohol advertisements.

Alcohol advertisements are prohibited on television between the hours of 3am to 9pm. This means that advertisements on television will be seen only after 9pm and until 3am.

Alcohol advertisements are prohibited on radio between the hours of 3pm to the following 10am on weekdays. This means that, on weekdays, advertisements will be heard on radio only after 10am and until 3pm. Alcohol advertisements can air on radio at any time on weekends.

These timings were agreed in conjunction with the Department of Communications, Climate Change and Environment and the Broadcasting Authority and relate to the times when children watch television and listen to radio.

Section 20 restricts advertisements for alcohol products in cinemas to the intervals around films with an age 18 classification and to a licensed premises in a cinema.

Section 21 provides that within three years of its commencement that the advertising and marketing sections of the Bill must be reviewed.

Section 22 relates to the separation and reduced visibility of alcohol products in mixed retail outlets.

During the passage of the Bill through the Seanad I engagedwith mixed trade retailers on this section of the Bill. My purpose was to ensure that alcohol would be made separate and less visible in our grocery shops and to find workableways to do this for those that will have to implement the changes.

The results of that engagement are that there are now three options for retailers to meet with the requirements of section 22 and mixed trade retailers will have two years after commencement of this section to prepare for those changes.

The first option requires a mixed trade retailer to keep alcohol in an area of the shop separated by a physical barrier with the additional choice of storing it in one unit at the till area.

Under this option alcohol products and advertisements for alcohol products must be kept in a single area of a premises that is separated from the rest of the premises by a barrier of a minimum of 1.2 metres high.

Alcohol products and advertisements must not be visible through the barrier.

Members of the public should not have to pass through this single alcohol area in order to access or buy other products. Only alcohol products and alcohol related products, for example mixers or corkscrews, can be displayed for sale in this area. Any alcohol related products available for sale in the alcohol area must also be available for sale elsewhere in the premises.

In addition to this single area, a retailer can also store alcohol products for sale in a unit behind the counter at one ‘point of sale’ area. The unit can indicate that it contains alcohol products but cannot contain advertisements for alcohol products. The unit must not be accessible to members of the public. The alcohol products cannot be visible in the storage unit when it is closed and it must remain closed when not in use.

The second option available to mixed trade retailers is to store alcohol products in enclosed storage units on the shop floor as well as in one unit behind the counter.

Under this option, alcohol products must be kept in one or more enclosed storage units on the shop floor. The storage units must be adjacent to each other and they can indicate that they contain alcohol products.

The storage units can contain only alcohol products and advertisements for alcohol products. Each unit must be of a maximum height of 2.2 metres and, up to a height of 1.5 metres, must be made of a material through which the alcohol products and advertisements for alcohol products inside cannot be seen when the units are closed. The units must remain closed when not in use.

In addition to these enclosed units, and as with the first option, a retailer can also store alcohol products for sale in a unit behind the counter at one ‘point of sale’ area.

Under the third option for mixed trade retailers, alcohol products and advertisements for alcohol products must be kept in up to three adjacent storage units. The units may indicate that they contain alcohol products and shall not contain anything other than alcohol products and advertisements. Each unit can be of a maximum width of 1 metre and a maximum height of 2.2 metres. There are no visibility restrictions on these units.

In addition to these units, and as with the first and second option, the retailer can also store alcohol products for sale in a unit behind the counter at one ‘point of sale’ area.

Alcohol related merchandise such as branded t-shirts or drinking glasses are not confined to these areas and can be sold anywhere in a premises.

These requirements for separation and visibility of alcohol products do not apply to stand alone off-licences which are defined as off-licences that sell solely or mainly alcohol products.

Airport shops are also exempted from these requirements and instead those set out in subsection (5) of this section apply. In airport shops, alcohol products sold for consumption off the premises must be displayed in storage units that contain only alcohol products. Advertisements for alcohol products can be displayed only in, on or beside these units. These units cannotadjoin storage units containing non-alcohol products.

Section 23 empowers the Minister for Health of the day to make regulations to prohibit the following types of promotions:

• selling an alcohol product at a reduced price or free of charge on the purchase of another alcohol product or another product or service, for example Buy One Get One Free offers.

• selling an alcohol product for a limited period at a priceless than it was the day before, for example Happy Hoursor Happy Days.

• an event or activity, or the sale at a reduced price or free of charge of alcohol products, likely to encourage the consumption of alcohol in a harmful way.

The award of loyalty card points or similar bonuses on the purchase of alcohol products or to obtain alcohol products at a reduced price of free of charge is included in the definition of “sell at a reduced price or free of charge”.

The final part of the Bill is Part 3 which is titled “Enforcement and Compliance” and which contains sections 24 to 31.

Section 24 provides for the appointment of authorised officers under the Act. The HSE is given the power to appoint authorised officers and the section sets out that officers will be given a warrant of appointment and will be required to produce that warrant if requested to do so when exercising any power conferred on him or her under the Act.

Section 25 sets out the powers of authorised officers in enforcing the Act. If an authorised officer has reasonable grounds for doing so, he or she may enter a premises, search the premises and secure for later inspection a premises for such period as may reasonably be necessary for the purposes of his or her functions under the Act.

An authorised officer can also require persons to give information and assistance and can remove or take copies of books or records as well as sample, examine, test and analyse alcohol products.

Section 26 sets out the arrangements for the taking of samplesof alcohol products or other substances by authorised officers.

Section 27 provides for the Minister for Health of the day to designate a laboratory and an analyst for the purposes of the analysis of samples under the Act. The designation must be by written notice in Iris Oifigiúil.

Section 28 sets out the evidence required in proceedings for an offence under the Act and provides that the Minister for Health of the day may prescribe in regulations the form of a certificate of analysis that can be used in evidence.

Section 29 provides that an authorised officer of the HSE,who has reasonable grounds for believing that a person is committing or has committed an offence under certain provisions, may serve a fixed payment notice in the prescribed form on that person. The relevant provisions are related to labelling and to children’s clothing.

Section 30 provides for the use of Compliance Notices. If an authorised officer is satisfied that a person has breached a provision of the Act the officer can serve a compliance notice requiring the person to either do something or refrain from doing something in order to comply with the Act.

Section 31 provides that the HSE may publish a list of persons on whom a fine or other penalty has been imposed by a court under the Act.

Conclusion

There are truths about alcohol in Ireland that it is time to accept: ​

• Alcohol can and does cause harms to health and significant costs to the Exchequer,​​​​​​
• Alcohol consumption remains high,​​​​​​
• The harms of alcohol make it unlike other grocery products and it is time to denormalise it.​​​​
• Irish consumers should be able to make informed choices about their drinking; and​​​​​​​​
• Our children and young people’s relationship with alcohol needs to be addressed.
This Bill is designed to act upon those truths and with it we have the opportunity in this House to take some important steps to create a healthier society for our children, our vulnerable people and all of our citizens. I therefore commend the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 to the House.

Thank you.