Public Health (Alcohol) Act – principal measures
Consumers should have the right to make informed decisions about the products they purchase, especially those, such as alcohol, which are potentially harmful to their health.
Health warnings are now a familiar and prominent feature on tobacco products in Ireland, while detailed nutritional labelling is ubiquitous on food products and soft drinks. However, consumer information on alcohol products currently extends no further than its volume strength (ABV).
That the health labelling of alcohol products is included in the Public Health (Alcohol) Act is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, to track our alcohol intake it is essential that we have accurate information on the alcohol content of specific drinks.
It is important to know how much we are drinking, if we aim to stay within the low-risk weekly guidelines for alcohol consumption. This becomes even more relevant in a context of 60% of drinkers underestimating what they drink (Alcohol Consumption in Ireland 2013: analysis of a National Alcohol Diary Survey (HRB)).
Labelling will also help consumers understand the health risks associated with alcohol, such as those associated with drinking during pregnancy. The level of public awareness or understanding of many of the health problems associated with alcohol consumption, such as the cancer risk, are quite low, as is awareness of the ‘invisible calories’ contained in alcohol products.
The Public Health (Alcohol) Act states that labels on alcohol products will have to detail:
- A warning to inform the public of the danger of alcohol consumption.
- A warning to inform the public of the danger of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
- A warning to inform the public of the direct link between alcohol and fatal cancers
- The quantity in grams of alcohol contained in the product.
- The energy value expressed in kilojules and kilocarlories.
- details of a website, (askaboutalcohol.ie) providing public health information in relation to alcohol consumption.
As well as the labels on alcohol products themselves, those selling alcohol, whether in pubs or the off-trade, will be required to display a notice containing the health warnings mentioned above, the link to the public health website, and indicating to the customer that the alcohol and calorie content of alcohol products is on the products themselves or, for all ’poured drinks’, can be found in a document, which must be on display.
There will be a three-year transition period before manufacturers and retailers of alcohol products will have to comply fully with the labelling requirements.
The Public Health (Alcohol) Act – Section 22 – contains a provision for structural separation of alcohol products in mixed retail outlets, such as supermarkets and convenience stores, which will mean that they will no longer be displayed like ’every day’ or routine grocery products.
Retailers will have to three choices in relation how it presents alcohol in-store – they can choose to store alcohol either in a separate area of the store, in a closed storage unit or cabinet which contains only alcohol products or in open storage units, not more than 3 (adjacent to each other). 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.
If a premises which sells alcohol products chooses to separate the alcohol from other products by confining the sale of alcohol to a single area in the premises, it must ensure that:
- It is separated from the rest of the premises by a physical barrier (minimum height not less than 1.2 metres), through which alcohol products and advertisements for alcohol products are not visible to members of the public
- Members of the public do not have to pass through that area in order to gain access to or purchase any products other than alcohol product, or
If a premises which sells alcohol products chooses to separate the alcohol from other products by confining the sale of alcohol to one or more storage units
- the maximum height of each 2.2 metres and each of which shall, to a height of 1.5 metres, have material in place ensuring the product are not visible when the unit is closed), and which, when in use, shall remain closed, or
If a premises which sells alcohol products chooses to separate the alcohol from other products by confining the sale of alcohol to no more than 3 open storage units,
- the maximum width of each of which shall not exceed 1 metre and a maximum height of each shall not exceed 2.2 metres,
Restricting the physical availability of alcohol is a critical component of any evidence-based approach to reducing consumption and consequently alcohol harm. Greater ease in obtaining alcohol is associated with greater amounts being consumed and the majority of alcohol sold in Ireland is now sold through the off-trade, rather than in pubs.
Alcohol is not an ordinary consumer product and this is recognised by the State’s licencing regime.
The legislation will replace a self regulatory, voluntary code established by the Responsible Retailers of Alcohol in Ireland (RRAI), which proved unfit for purpose, as reflected in the current retailing landscape.
The legislation will be monitored and enforced by Environmental Health Officers.
Regulations relating to sale and supply of alcohol products – Price-based promotions
Price-based promotions are used extensively in Ireland to attract customers, with young people particularly price-sensitive and often targeted by these promotions.
These can range from promotions such as reduced drinks prices on certain nights for students or those targeted at other groups, as well as price-based promotions which extend for certain periods of time.
Offers that promote reduced prices depending on the number of drinks purchased, i.e. quantity discounts, are also commonplace in the on and off-trades.
Price-based drinks promotions like these are often aimed at young people and encourage the type of harmful binge drinking that is such a threat to their health and wellbeing. The primary purpose of regulating price-based promotions is to reduce the health harms from alcohol, but it can also have a positive impact on alcohol-fuelled crime, such as public order offences.
The Public Health (Alcohol) Act allows the Minister to make regulations to sale and supply of alcohol products (Section 23):
- Selling or supplying alcohol products free of charge or at a reduced price to a particular category of people.
- Selling or supplying alcohol products during a limited period (three days or less) at a price less than was being charged for those same products the day before the offer began.
- Selling or supplying alcohol products free of charge or at a reduced price to someone because they have bought a certain quantity of alcohol products or any other product or service.
- Promoting a business or event in a way that it intended or likely to cause people to drink in a harmful manner.
The Act (Section 23) states that the provisions regarding price-based promotions also include the award, directly or indirectly, of bonus points, loyalty card points or similar benefit for purchasing alcohol products, which can be used to obtain alcohol products or other products or services free of charge or at a reduced price.
Similarly, these schemes where ’points’ etc are awarded for the purchase of other products or services cannot then be used to obtain alcohol products free of charge or at reduced prices. The legislation will be monitored and enforced by Environmental Health Officers.
Alcohol marketing, including advertising, sponsorship and promotion, increases the likelihood that adolescents will start to use alcohol, and to drink more if they are already using alcohol. There is no safe limit for children drinking. Young people’s drinking patterns have a direct effect on their health, development and welfare therefore reducing children’s exposure to alcohol marketing is a primarily child protection issue.
Every day, the relationship children and young people hold with alcohol products is fostered on positive, risk-free images and narratives of alcohol experience. Due to a lack of effective regulations, young people are poorly protected from sophisticated market development strategies and powerful influences on their behaviour and expectations.
In effect, the alcohol industry has become our children’s primary educator on alcohol. Marketing shapes our popular culture by creating and sustaining expectations and norms about how to achieve social, sporting or sexual success, how to celebrate, how to relax and how to belong.
The Public Health (Alcohol) Act (Section 13) contains a number of important regulations that will reduce children’s exposure to alcohol marketing and removes the existing systems of industry led self-regulation and voluntary codes.
Some of the main regulations regarding advertising products in the Bill are:
- Advertisements must only give specific information about the nature of the product, such as where it is from, its price, a description of the taste etc
- Advertisements must contain health warnings regarding alcohol consumption, including during pregnancy, and a link to a public health website, (askaboutalcohol.ie), giving information on alcohol and related harms.
- Advertisements in cinemas will be limited to films classified as over 18s
- There will be a 9 p.m. broadcast watershed for advertisements on television and radio
- The marketing and advertising of alcohol in print media (both domestic and foreign publications) will be restricted in relation to volume and type of publication.
Restricting advertisements for alcohol products to content about the nature of products will ensure that conceptual led narratives, shaped on audience profiling, such as identifying the ambitions and aspirations of young people, will not be prohibited in alcohol advertising. Future placements will be less likely to glamourise alcohol or appealing to children, as they will no longer see alcohol products aligned with physical performance, personal success, social success and a variety of other positive outcomes.
In the future all alcohol advertising will be factual and/or informative defined within a strict criteria that supports the presentation of the product, its production, its taste, its price, etc., while also containing appropriate warnings about the health risks associated with its consumption.
Similar restrictions on alcohol advertising content have been successfully in place in France since 1991, though the French laws go much further than what is proposed in Ireland and provide for no alcohol advertising on television or in cinemas, and no sponsorship of cultural or sporting events.
To further protect children from exposure to alcohol marketing, the Public Health (Alcohol) Act (Section 14) will prohibit advertising in certain places, including:
- in or near a school
- in or near an early years service (e.g. early years service/creche)
- a park, open space or playground owned or maintained by a local authority
- on public transport
- in a train or bus station, and at a bus or Luas stop.
In relation to the schools, early years services and playgrounds, alcohol advertisements must not be within 200 metres of the perimeter of the premises or grounds. A restriction on merchandising of children’s clothing which promotes alcohol consumption or bears the name of an alcohol brand or product is also included in the Act (Section 17).
While it does not ban alcohol sponsorship of sport, with the exception of motorsport, the Bill 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.)
Minimum unit pricing
Minimum unit pricing (MUP) is a mechanism to establish a ‘floor price’ beneath which alcohol cannot legally be sold and is based on the amount of pure alcohol in a product, measured in grammes. One standard drink in Ireland contains 10 grammes of alcohol and the Public Health (Alcohol) Act – Section 11 – provides for an MUP of €1 per standard drink.
MUP is a targeted measure, designed to stop strong alcohol being sold at very low prices in the off-trade: supermarkets, convenience stores and off-licences, where alcohol is frequently used as a ’loss leader’ .
The easy and widespread availability of such cheap alcohol has contributed to a significant shift in our alcohol purchasing and consumption habits from on-trade towards the off-trade sector – pubs to home drinking – which now accounts for the majority of alcohol sold and consumed in Ireland.
MUP will target cheaper alcohol relative to its strength because the price is determined by, and directly proportionate to, the amount of pure alcohol in the drink. The MUP of 0.10c per grammes (one standard drink contains 10 gms of pure alcohol) will not affect the price of any alcohol products in pubs, clubs and restaurants, which reflects other cost factors, but which will raise the price of the products that are cheap relative to their strength in the off-trade: So, for example:
- a pint of Heineken (5% ABV) would have a MUP of €2.25.
- a pint of Budweiser (4% ABV) would have a MUP of €1.80.
- a measure of Paddy Irish whiskey (40% ABV) would have a MUP of €1.12.
- a measure of Huzzar vodka (37.5% ABV) would have a MUP of €1.05.
- a 500ml can of Guinness (4.2% ABV) would have a MUP of €1.68.
- a 500ml can of Devil’s Bit Cider (6% ABV) would have a MUP of €2.40.
- a 500ml can of Dutch Gold (4% ABV) would have a MUP of €1.60.
- a 440ml can of Tesco lager (3.8% ABV) would have a MUP of €1.33.
- a 700ml bottle of Jameson whiskey (40% ABV) would have a MUP of €22.40.
- a 700ml bottle of Gin (37.5% ABV) would have a MUP of €20.70.
- a 750ml bottle of Jacob’s Creek Classic Chardonnay (13.1% ABV) would have a MUP of €7.86.
- a 1,000ml bottle of Smirnoff vodka (37.5% ABV) would have a MUP of €30.
The targeted approach of MUP is important as the strongest, cheapest drinks are the alcohol products generally favoured by the heaviest drinkers among us, who generally seek the greatest amount of alcohol for the least amount of spend, and who are most at risk of alcohol-related illnesses and death.
These alcohol products are also favoured by our children and young people, who generally have the least disposable income but the highest prevalence of binge drinking.
An analysis of the expected impact of MUP in Ireland, commissioned by the Department of Health from University of Sheffield, found that it would only have a small impact on the alcohol consumption of those who drink in a low risk manner but increasing in line with how much a person drinks, with those who drink in a high-risk manner, experiencing a significant reduction in their alcohol consumption.
As a result, MUP will be effective in reducing alcohol consumption, alcohol harms, including deaths, hospital admissions, crime and workplace absences, and the costs associated with those harms.
The analysis estimated that with a €0.10c MUP, alcohol-attributable deaths would be reduced by approximately 197 per year in Ireland after 20 years. The full impact of the policy will take time, due to the time-lag involved with many serious alcohol-related illnesses, such as liver cirrhosis and alcohol-related cancers.
Ireland will also see almost 6,000 fewer hospital admissions per year, a reduction in alcohol-fuelled crime and workplace absences, while the total societal value of these reductions in health, crime and work place harms is estimated at €2.35 billion.
Early research findings on the minimum pricing systems operating in two Canadian provinces show the effectiveness of a MUP in reducing alcohol consumption and related harms. In Saskatchewan, in Canada a 10% increase in the MUP was associated with an 8.4% decrease in total alcohol consumption. In British Columbia, a 10% increase in the minimum price was associated with a 32% fall in wholly alcohol related deaths and decreases of 19% in alcohol-related traffic offences and 9% in crimes against the person.
The Impact of MUP
- It will save lives.
- There will be a reduction in alcohol harm for both the person drinking in a high-risk manner and those around them.
- It will reduce alcohol-related hospital admissions.
- It will reduce alcohol-related crime.
- There will be a decrease in workplace absences due to alcohol.
- There will be a reduction in the costs of alcohol harm to the State and its citizens.
- Those who drink within low-risk adviced limits are least likely to be affected in terms of alcohol consumption and spending, regardless of income levels.
- Large multiple retailers will not be allowed to simply absorb price increases.
- It will not affect the price of alcohol products in pubs, clubs and restaurants.
- It will not affect alcohol exports or lead to job losses.
You can read the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018, as passed by the Oireachtas, in full here.
The Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) on the then, Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015, can be read here.