New alcohol legislation must include provision for robust labelling and code of conduct: Health Committee

New legislation on alcohol labelling should be treated in a similar fashion to tobacco legislation, to include clear, graphic and standardised health warnings for maximum effect, according to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children.

In a report on upcoming alcohol legislation, the Committee recommends a complementary public awareness campaign should be run to clearly explain labelling to the public and explain alcohol content in grams, standard drink size, and relate this to recommended maximum weekly consumption.

On Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) of alcohol, the report notes the evidence-based research presented by the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group which highlighted MUP as a targeted and proportionate response to alcohol misuse. The Committee recommends setting the price per unit at the upper end of the range currently being examined, which is understood to be between €0.60 and €1.10.

The report also notes that the General Heads of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 exclude export products from Minimum Unit Pricing, but no reference is made to products sold in Duty Free so the Committee are asking that the possibility of excluding products sold in Duty Free from the provisions of the Bill be explored.

Other recommendations include that:

  • Close collaboration between counterparts in Northern Ireland be fostered to ensure a co-ordinated approach to the implementation of MUP policy to reduce distortions in cross border trade;
  • A social responsibility levy be introduced, as recommended by the Steering Group on a National Substance Misuse Strategy, to capture some of the profit which may arise from introducing a MUP to fund awareness and addiction programmes;
  • The Minister provide for more robust regulation in the area of advertising and marketing, including social media, with input independent health professionals and experts;
  • A ban on alcohol advertising on television before 9 pm be introduced and the means by which outdoor marketing of alcohol could be banned or restricted close to schools be considered, and
  • The structural separation of alcohol products from other products in mixed retail environments be considered.

The Committee strongly recommends that Environmental Health Officers be fully resourced in order to ensure effective enforcement of the Bill’s provisions.

Chairman of the Committee Jerry Buttimer TD says: “This Joint Committee has a long-standing commitment to support for health prevention measures which will make a meaningful difference to life expectancy, and improve our quality of life. This report sets out a number of recommendations for consideration by the Minister for inclusion in the upcoming Alcohol legislation. In general, the Committee is supportive of the proposed measures in respect of product labelling, including support for the introduction of health warnings on alcohol products.

“Based on the weight of evidence and broad support from health professionals, the Committee is also generally supportive of the proposed introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing. although the Committee did outline some concerns about implementation issues, and the potential impact of MUP on lower income households.

“With regard to marketing and advertising regulations, the Committee supports proposals to put the regulation of alcohol advertising on a statutory basis. However, it does not believe that a weak voluntary code will translate into an effective statutory code. On this basis, we believe that the Minister may wish to consider developing updated regulations, with input from health professionals.”

“I would like to sincerely thank all of the stakeholders, groups and experts who provided the Committee with submissions and evidence during the Committee’s sessions. I also wish to acknowledge the co-operation and assistance of the Minister for Health and his officials in engaging with the Committee during its deliberations and particularly thank Committee Members for their ongoing assistance in pre-legislative scrutiny of a very important Bill.”

Access Report: Report on Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015.