Alcohol Action Ireland welcomes the publication of the Public Health Alcohol Bill

“The Public Health Alcohol Bill is a landmark piece of legislation and a critical first step in addressing one of our most significant public health problems. Alcohol misuse claims three lives every day in Ireland and has a hugely damaging impact on our nation’s physical and mental health,” said Conor Cullen, Head of Advocacy and Communications.

“It’s also important, in the context of legislation, to remember that the harm caused by our alcohol consumption extends far beyond the individual who is drinking, to impact on families and communities throughout Ireland. Alcohol places a huge burden on our health services, costs the State an estimated €3.7 billion per year and is a major contributory factor to serious issues such as road safety, crime, self-harm, suicide, domestic violence, and child welfare.

“The measures within the Bill are a very important and positive first step in our efforts to reduce alcohol harm and improve our health, safety and wellbeing. Most importantly this legislation can save lives. The three key evidence-based areas required for changing a harmful drinking culture – alcohol pricing, marketing and availability – are represented in the legislation, which is very encouraging, as is the move to introduce labelling, with health information provided by the State.

Minimum Unit Pricing

“Minimum unit pricing (MUP) is a particularly important measure as, by setting a ’floor price’ beneath which alcohol cannot legally be sold, it is designed to stop the sale of strong alcohol products at very low prices in the off-trade, particularly supermarkets. The widespread availability of such cheap alcohol has caused such a dramatic shift in our patterns of alcohol consumption. However, MUP will have no impact on the price of alcohol sold in pubs, clubs or restaurants and will have little or no impact on those who drink in a low-risk manner. As well as being supported by the medical and public health sectors, MUP is also supported by Ireland’s publicans and off-licence owners.

“MUP can save lives precisely because it targets only the strongest and cheapest drinks, which are the alcohol products favoured by two groups most vulnerable to alcohol-related harm – the very heaviest drinkers among us, who generally seek to get as much alcohol as they can for as little money as possible, and our young people, who generally have the least disposable income and the highest prevalence of binge drinking. The introduction of this life-saving measure has been delayed in Scotland due to a legal challenge by the alcohol industry and a decision is due from the European Court of Justice before the end of this year. However, the preceding opinion indicates that MUP for alcohol is not precluded by EU law if it is considered to be a better measure than taxation for reducing alcohol harm, which the evidence shows it is.

Alcohol marketing

“Reducing children’s exposure to alcohol marketing is a child protection issue and therefore this Bill’s measures to restrict and deglamourise alcohol marketing are very important, as this marketing is a sophisticated and powerful influence on children’s drinking expectations and behaviour. Ultimately, increased exposure to alcohol marketing increases the likelihood that adolescents will start to use alcohol, and to drink more if they have already started.

“We are disappointed that the recommendation of the National Substance Misuse Strategy to phase out alcohol sponsorship of sport completely has not been included, though the regulation in respect of on-pitch advertising at least indicates that the Government recognises the link between alcohol and sports is one that needs to be broken. While this Bill does not fully address the increasingly pervasive influence of alcohol marketing on our children and young people, particularly in respect of digital marketing, it contains some very positive regulations and, most importantly, will reduce children’s exposure to alcohol marketing and finally move us away from many of the existing systems of industry self-regulation and voluntary codes governing these areas, which have proved wholly ineffective.

Opposition to the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill

“We have seen before that when we regulate effectively to protect public health and safety, as we did with tobacco legislation, there can be great benefits for Irish society, and the Public Health Alcohol Bill has the potential to have a similar impact in respect of our harmful relationship with alcohol. We know that the Bill and the measures contained within it will come under sustained attack from the alcohol industry and, like the tobacco industry before it, we have already seen scaremongering about the economy, jobs and tourism, and talk of legal action.

“We can expect this type of campaigning to intensify in the months ahead. However, our legislators and all those genuinely concerned with reducing alcohol-related harm in Ireland must resist the pressure the alcohol industry will continue to exert in relation to the Bill and continue to put the health and wellbeing of the Irish people first until it is fully implemented.”