The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 was conceived in a vain, or valiant, attempt to combat Ireland’s well known and stereotyped issue with alcohol. The Bill was presented through the Oireachtas on 10th December 2015 and has since passed through four further stages in the Seanad and five in the Dáil, after intense lobbying by the drinks industry. Despite this opposition, it successfully passed through all stages in the Dáil.
The health warnings will take up one-third of the label on alcoholic products informing the consumer of the calorie intake and risks of illnesses such as heart disease and cancer.
The main concept of the Bill is to lower the negative effects of alcohol by addressing its availability. A short-term goal of the Bill is to reduce the alcohol consumption from the current 11 litres per annum per person to 9.1 litres by 2020. There are five main provisions of the Bill including minimum unit pricing; health warning labels on products; advertising and sponsorship regulation; governance of sale and supply of alcohol in specific circumstances and the segregation of alcohol products in mixed trading retailers.
There will be a broadcasting watershed where no alcohol advertising can be aired before 9pm and advertisements for alcoholic products are forbidden in the cinema for all films bar those with an over 18s rating
The minimum price per gram of alcohol proposed in the Bill is €0.10. A bottle of wine, for instance, contains an average of 85 grams of alcohol. Multiply this by €0.10 and the minimum price for a bottle of wine is €8.50. Retailers will not be legally entitled to sell a bottle of wine for below this amount.
The provision regarding the health warning labels was perhaps the most contentious issue. The health warnings will take up one-third of the label on alcoholic products informing the consumer of the calorie intake and risks of illnesses such as heart disease and cancer. As other European countries have opposed the inclusion of cancer warnings on alcoholic products, lobbyists for the drinks industry argued in late September that the government could ostracise themselves in Europe for introducing them. While this was the most combative aspect of the legislation, it’s aim is to specifically inform consumers of the potential threat alcohol holds. Minister for Health, Simon Harris, stated that this “will make a real difference when it comes to reducing the harm caused by alcohol”.
The advertising and sponsorship section of the Bill outlines that alcohol can only be advertised if warnings and details of an alcohol awareness website are also present. Alcohol will no longer be allowed to be advertised in various places such as sport venues, a park owned by a local authority, within 200 metres of schools and also on trains and buses. The legislation is particularly aimed at shielding children from alcohol. There will be a broadcasting watershed where no alcohol advertising can be aired before 9pm and advertisements for alcoholic products are forbidden in the cinema for all films bar those with an over 18s rating. The advertisements and sponsorships are also banned in events aimed at children and it will be illegal to produce children’s clothing with alcoholic products displayed on them.
Another provision that sparked controversy was the segregation of alcohol in retailers that sell multiple products. The legislation sets out that there must be a physical barrier separating the alcohol from the rest of the items, so the alcohol is not visible from the outside area and consumers will not have to pass through the alcohol section in order to buy other commodities. This aspect of the Bill halted the process for nearly a year, when a large number of Senators opposed it for being too expensive for small retailers to implement.
The final main provision relates to the regulation of the sale and supply of alcohol in specific circumstances. This part of the Bill gives the Minister of Health the power to make regulations prohibiting a person from selling alcohol free of charge or at a reduced price for a limited time or anything that promotes an event that is intended to encourage binge drinking.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics, Ireland has one of the highest rates of binge drinking in the world. In a report published by the Health Research Board, they reported that three people die per day as a result of drinking alcohol. The Irish Cancer Society announced that there are 900 new alcohol-related cancer cases each year. This issue isn’t abstract, it can no longer be put down to a worn-out stereotype of the drinking Irish, it is real, and this Bill is taking real steps to combat the problem. The lead in times set out for the provisions of the Bill is between one and three years. All going smoothly, the provisions of the Bill will be implemented by the end of 2021. However, inferring from the intense lobbying and delays already witnessed, this Bill will certainly see more obstacles and time impediments in its future. For the sake of the ever increasing death toll, let’s hope this wait isn’t too long.