Public Health (Alcohol) Bill: Availability

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The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 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 ’ordinary’ products, such as bread or milk.

Retailers will have to choose to store alcohol either in a separate area of the store, or in a closed storage unit or cabinet which contains only alcohol products. 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, through which alcohol products and advertisements for alcohol products are not readily 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

If a premises which sells alcohol products chooses to use a closed storage unit containing only alcohol products, it must ensure that:

  • The storage unit is not accessible to the public
  • It doesn’t contain any advertisements for alcohol products
  • Alcohol products are not visible to members of the public and the storage unit remains closed when not in use

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 through the fact it needs a license to be sold and is subject to specific excise duty. However, despite being a licensed product and recognised as a drug, when it comes to selling alcohol in Ireland currently, it is largely treated like a regular grocery.

Alcohol is sold to consumers by utilising what is termed the ’marketing mix’: product, price, place and promotion. The number of places where people can buy alcohol has increased dramatically in the past 20 years and it is now available from almost every supermarket, convenience store and petrol station in Ireland.

Retailers also create opportunities for impulse purchases through placement of alcohol opposite or near checkouts rather than create conditions whereby the purchase of alcohol is a more conscious and planned decision.

As well as driving sales, this product placement reinforces the perception that alcohol is an ordinary consumer good. Alcohol is sold alongside food and other everyday goods, which has the effect of categorising alcohol as just another commodity, another item in the family shopping basket. This has a particular impact on children.

However, alcohol is not an ordinary product and the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill will ensure that this reflected in appropriately restricted availability, display and sale arrangements for mixed retails outlets, such as supermarkets and convenience stores.

The legislation will replace a current voluntary code in operation by the Responsible Retailers of Alcohol in Ireland (RRAI), which has proven unfit for purpose, as reflected by the clear, existing lack of separation of alcohol products in mixed trading premises throughout Ireland. Not only has this code not worked, but it is designed in a way that it simply cannot work.

The RRAI code is not and cannot be effective in achieving the separation of alcohol, structural or otherwise, from other beverages, food and other items in mixed trading premises. The key reason for its incapacity to effect separation is due, in the main, to the use of the term “as far as possible” in the code.

The RRAI code states that:

Alcohol products will, as far as possible, be displayed only in a part of the premises through which customers do not have to pass in order to obtain access to other beverages and food products (except where, for security reasons, such products are displayed behind the counter but not in the window). Alcohol products will be confined to that one part of the premises and will, as far as possible, be separated from other beverages and food products.

This term “as far as possible” means mixed retailers simply do not have to display alcohol in a separate part of the premises from other beverages and food products. It also provides an easy opt out which many chose to take, with very weak sanctions for non-compliance.

It should also be noted that many mixed retail outlets in Ireland are not RRAI members and only legislation will can achieve the aim of structural separation of alcohol products in mixed retail outlets in Ireland, such as supermarkets and convenience stores. The legislation will be monitored and enforced by Environmental Health Officers.