Press release: Legal challenge must be taken to decide if laws designed to protect children are being egregiously flouted with zero alcohol products

Wed, March 20, 2024   

Ireland’s world-leading law is clear – commercial communication that directly or indirectly promotes alcohol using any trade description, i.e. trademark or emblem, is prohibited  

The alcohol industry must be challenged over its continued and egregious flouting of the law in relation to the marketing of zero alcohol products, using the logo and attributes of the master brand, Alcohol Action Ireland said today. 

AAI believes that laws designed to protect children from predatory alcohol marketing practices are being broken by global harmful commodity companies that will use any perceived loophole to get around increasing regulation on their product.  

Sect. 15 of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 (PHAA) bans alcohol advertising “in or on the sports field of play” during a sports event, but to watch the Six Nations rugby tournament you would not know there had been any change to the law. This is because the industry simply tacked a 0.0 onto its commercial communications, a move which Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly has described as ‘cynical’. 

The PHAA states very clearly that – “advertising” means any form of commercial communication with the aim or direct or indirect effect of promoting an alcohol product including – statement of any trade description or designation, or a display or other publication of a trademark, emblem, marketing image or logo – is prohibited. 

As highlighted by a leading researcher in this area, the way in which industry has responded to Ireland’s laws should be “a matter for Ireland’s judicial authorities to determine.” 

AAI CEO Dr Sheila Gilheany said: 

“Zero alcohol ads use logo and attributes of the master brand, contrary to what is allowed under the law. It was very clear from the Six Nations championship the level of marketing of alcohol brands through the use of zero alcohol products using identical branding to their master brand.  This is because the alcohol industry did what it does best – it pivoted to circumvent the law using the fig leaf of 0.0. However, we believe that by using the alcohol producer logo and emblem the law is being broken.  A case must be taken to test this in court. We believe the PHAA is very clear and while it’s open to the court to interpret, there is a very strong case to be made. How can a brand use its logo and trademark yet claim its main product is not being advertised? This is particularly the case during the Six Nations which used a combination of alcohol and zero alcohol mentions which blend together to seamlessly promote the Guinness brand.” 

The PHAA was deemed particularly important in protecting children from pervasive alcohol marketing. However, with the proliferation of zero alcohol marketing – for what is a tiny proportion of alcohol industry sales (just 1.5%) there are now ads for alcohol brands in places where they were never before allowed, for example spirits brands during the day on TV.  

Dr Gilheany continued: “What is the point of our legislation if it is simply being overridden by commercial interests? These ads are being run during the day, which will also make a mockery of the broadcast watershed on alcohol advertising, when it becomes operational from Jan 2025, if this is not addressed. We would be keen to find out if the HSE and/or the Department of Health is going to take action on this and if not, why not.”  

Research shows that alcohol brand references are occurring at a rate of 1 every 8 seconds during high profile rugby matches – a sport which appears to have been entirely captured by alcohol. Diageo’s alcohol brand Guinness now also sponsors the women’s Six Nations rugby tournament, which begins this week.  

The HSE previously took legal action to enforce tobacco control legislation regarding issues they called a “major challenge to success and orchestrated.” AAI believes that the PHAA is similarly under threat from orchestrated actions of the alcohol industry.  

“We would hope that the HSE would play a pro-active role to protect and enforce the PHAA as they did with smoking legislation. We believe that the HSE could take a very strong case against the alcohol industry to test this in the courts and should be supported in this by the government. If this is not done, it is essentially saying that the industry gets to set the goal posts when it comes to alcohol marketing regulations.” 

The World Health Organisation recently published guidance on the whole area of zero alcohol products pointing out that they are unsuitable for children, noting concerns about them in relation to people in recovery and the need for strict regulation around their sale and marketing. 

 Dr Gilheany continued: “We need a government that will recommit to tackling alcohol harm at all levels to protect citizens, especially children.  We brought in our world leading laws in 2018 and at its core, the Act was a public health measure aimed at protecting all citizens from alcohol harm, in particular younger people. Back then, the job wasn’t over, it was just starting as unfortunately industry narratives and manoeuvres never stop.” 


Editor’s notes: 

For media enquiries and interview requests, please contact: 

Conor Keane, AAI Communications Officer, 

Tel: 087 995 0186 

Media resources for reporting on alcohol issues available here