Govt publishes far-reaching measures to tackle alcohol misuse

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Cabinet has today signed off on far-reaching proposals to reduce alcohol consumption and tackle alcohol misuse which will help Ireland to cut alcohol consumption to the OECD average by 2020 and reduce the harm associated with alcohol misuse.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said the proposed Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 is part of a suite of measures designed to reduce alcohol consumption and limit the damage to the nation’s health, society and economy.

“Most Irish adults drink too much and many drink dangerously. This has an enormous impact on our society and economy through greater illness and higher health costs, public order and violent offences, road traffic collisions, injuries and absence from work. It is also associated with many suicides and instances of sexual violence, domestic violence and child harm,” Minister Varadkar said.

“This legislation is the most far-reaching proposed by any Irish Government. For the first time alcohol is being addressed as a public health measure which makes this a legislative milestone. It deals with all of the important aspects that must be addressed including price, availability, information and marketing.

“This matter has been debated for six years, since the establishment of the Working Group on a National Substance Misuse Strategy. A Bill has been on the cards since the Government decision in 2013. We have been talking about for too long. It is time to take action.”

The proposals are contained in the Heads of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 which was discussed at Cabinet today. They will form the basis of the Bill which will now be drafted. They include:

 ·            Provisions to prevent the sale of very cheap alcohol, health labelling and warnings on products including calorie counts;
 ·            New enforcement powers for Environmental Health Officers to police and enforce the separation of alcohol within stores, when Section 9 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008   is commenced by the Department of Justice;

  •         Environmental Health Officers will also be empowered to police minimum unit pricing, health labelling, marketing and advertising and other measures of the Bill.

The following measures regarding marketing, advertising and sponsorship will be subject to a three year review to gauge their effectiveness:

 ·            Restrictions on the advertising and marketing of alcohol from 2016 including a broadcast watershed on television and radio, with further restrictions due on cinema and outdoor advertising;
 ·            It will be illegal to market or advertise alcohol in a manner that is appealing to children.
 ·            Legal regulation of sports sponsorship for the first time.

An inter-Departmental Committee chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach found that sponsorship was inextricably linked with marketing and advertising generally and best dealt with in a comprehensive way as proposed in the measures agreed today.

“The Heads contain provisions that recognise that alcohol is a drug not just an ordinary foodstuff. It contains one of the most effective measures in dealing with the misuse of alcohol: minimum unit pricing which effectively bans low cost sales of alcoholic products. This measure has the potential to really impact on people who consume alcohol in a harmful and hazardous fashion and it can do so quickly. Other measures are equally impressive – calorie and health warning labelling, powers for Environmental Health Officers in premises that sell alcohol, restrictions and regulation of marketing, advertising and sponsorship including sport and will go a long way in protecting children from the misuse of alcohol and informing consumers about the dangers of alcohol consumption.

“These Heads won’t satisfy everyone. Industry will complain about the impact on them. Health campaigners will be disappointed that a complete ban on alcohol sponsorship has not been introduced. But I am not prepared to postpone this legislation and continue to have endless discussions and delays. Instead, I am moving ahead with all key elements of the package including the regulation of marketing, advertising and sponsorship. This will encompass major sporting events for the first time by turning the code of conduct in to an enforceable regulation. These regulations will ensure that children’s and young people’s exposure to alcohol marketing is considerably diminished.”


Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 – Specific Details

The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill aims to reduce alcohol consumption in Ireland to 9.1 litres per person per annum (the OECD average) by 2020, and to reduce the harms associated with alcohol.

The Bill consists of 20 draft Heads and includes provisions for:

Minimum Unit Pricing for Alcohol Products
This will make it illegal to sell or advertise for sale alcohol at a price below a set minimum price. 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. The minimum price will be set at a level which evidence shows will reduce the burden of harm from alcohol. It will be set through secondary legislation (regulation) in consultation. For further details see Appendix.

Health Labelling of Alcohol Products
’Standard Drink’ or units are widely misunderstood by the general public.   The Health Research Board, National Alcohol Diary Survey concluded that the Irish population underestimate the amount that they drink, reporting only 39% of their general alcohol consumption.

The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill provides that labels on alcohol products will contain:

 ·            Health warnings and advice (including for pregnancy)
 ·            The amount of pure alcohol as measured in grams
 ·            The calorie count

Under the Bill, on-licence holders (e.g. pubs, restaurants) are obliged to provide this information to customers in relation to alcohol products sold on draught or in measures e.g. pints, glasses of wine and measures of spirits.   Health warnings and advice will also be included on all promotional material.

The Department plans to conduct primary research e.g. through focus groups to inform health labelling to ensure clarity and efficacy of message.

New Enforcement Powers for Environmental Health Officers

The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill will be enforced by Environmental Health Officers.   Provisions to be enforced include those in respect of:

 ·            structural separation of alcohol from other products under section 9 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 when it is commenced
 ·            minimum unit pricing
 ·            health labelling
 ·            regulations relating to the sale, supply and consumption of alcohol products under section 16 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 (to restrict advertising, promoting, selling or supplying alcohol at reduced prices or free of charge)

Regulation of Advertising and Marketing of Alcohol

The Public (Health) Alcohol Bill will make it illegal to market or advertise alcohol in a manner that is appealing to children.   It provides for the making of regulations regarding the marketing and advertising of alcohol and includes provisions, inter alia, for restrictions on broadcast marketing and advertising, cinema advertising, outdoor advertising, print media and the regulation of sponsorship by alcohol companies.   It also provides for controls on the content of alcohol marketing and advertising.

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s ’General Communication Code’ will be amended to reflect the requirements of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill in relation to the marketing and advertising of alcohol and television and radio.

The existing Code of Practice for Sponsorships by Drinks Companies will be put on a legal footing with enforcement powers and penalties.

The provisions in relation to the marketing and advertising will be reviewed after 3 years.

Minimum Unit Pricing

Addressing the price of alcohol is an important component of any long-term strategic approach to tackling alcohol misuse.   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 Public Health (Alcohol) Bill will make it illegal to sell or advertise for sale alcohol at a price below a set minimum price.   Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) sets a minimum price per gram of alcohol.   The minimum price of an alcohol product would be based on the number of grams of alcohol in the product.   The sale price of the alcohol product, in both the on and off trade sector, could not be below this minimum unit price.

MUP is a targeted measure, aimed at those who drink in a harmful and hazardous manner, and designed to prevent the sale of alcohol at very cheap prices.   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.

Alcohol products which are strong and cheap are those favoured by the heaviest drinkers, who are most at risk of alcohol-related illness and death and young people who have the least disposable income.

The University of Sheffield study (Model-Based Appraisal of Minimum Unit Pricing for Alcohol in the Republic of Ireland, 2013 (2014) noted that MUP would only have a small impact on alcohol consumption for low risk drinkers.   Somewhat larger impacts would be experienced by increasing risk drinkers, with the most substantial effects being experienced by high risk drinkers.

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.

The setting of a minimum price will be done by way of regulations, as provided for under the primary legislation and in consultation with relevant Government Departments.   The price will be set when the Bill is published and will be at a level that the evidence shows will reduce the burden of harm from alcohol.