The Irish government has initiated the process to place health warning labels on all alcohol products. Section 12 of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 contains a provision for health warning labeling of alcohol products. The Irish government has notified the European Commission of the draft Public Health (Alcohol) (Labelling) Regulations 2022. Now, member countries of the EU have three months to respond to these new regulations.
This is the first step in the long process of getting health warning labels on alcohol products. If an EU member country opposes the regulations it could take longer. Once the EU gives the okay, the Irish government will offer a three-year phase-in period for the alcohol industry to introduce the new labeling on their product packaging.
When it comes into effect, the new labeling regulations will ensure that no alcohol product can be sold without bearing a warning that informs the public that :
- “Drinking alcohol causes liver disease”
- Displays a health symbol intended to inform the public of the danger of alcohol consumption when pregnant, and
- “There is a direct link between alcohol and fatal cancers”
In addition to the labels on the alcohol bottles, all licensed alcohol outlets must display the same warnings within the premises, including a link to the public health alcohol information website ‘askaboutalcohol.ie’. They must also indicate to customers that the alcohol and calorie content of alcohol products for all ‘poured drinks’ is available in a document on request.
Government aims to reduce heavy alcohol in Ireland through the new regulations
The Irish Department of Health’s ‘Healthy Ireland Survey 2021‘ showed that Irish people still consume alcohol at high levels.
- 66% of Irish people have consumed alcohol in the previous six months, including 70% of those aged 15 to 24 years and 68% of men most likely to do so.
- 37% of the population aged 15 years and older use alcohol at least once a week.
- Meanwhile, 15% of the population – 22% of alcohol use – engage in binge alcohol consumption on a typical alcohol use occasion.
The Irish government further cites data showing that 15% of children aged 13 have already had their first alcoholic beverage while over 60% of children aged 17 say they’ve been intoxicated with alcohol.
Therefore, the government aims to reduce consumption by denormalizing alcohol and increasing recognition of the harm caused by the products of the alcohol industry through the new labeling regulations.
[Alcohol is] responsible for an enormous public health burden,” said the Irish Government in a statement to the European Commission, as per the Irish Examiner.
The data shows that the Irish population is not aware of the health risks of alcohol and the draft regulations submitted here are designed to ensure that Irish consumers are directly informed of those risks and are assisted to make healthier choices about their alcohol consumption.”The Government of Ireland
Public health advocates welcome the new labeling regulations
This is a very important development in what is a very slow process,” said Eunan McKinney, Head of Communications, Alcohol Action Ireland, as per their website.
These national labeling regulations recognize that citizens have the right to know the inherent risk from alcohol use – a right currently denied. By providing consumers with accurate, convenient, and timely information on products, that are both conspicuous and prominent, citizens will be better able to make informed choices.”Eunan McKinney, Head of Communications, Alcohol Action Ireland
Irish government needs to watch out for Big Alcohol interference
The experience of Australia and New Zealand with trying to implement pregnancy warning labels on alcohol products shows that the Government of Ireland, civil society, and community groups will need to be ready for alcohol industry interference to delay, water down and derail the new health warning labeling regulations.
Due to Big Alcohol’s relentless efforts against the health warning labeling, it took almost 25 years to get the pregnancy warning labels on alcohol products in Australia and New Zealand, since the relevant authority was first notified of the need.
It is also well to remember that during minimum unit pricing (MUP) policies implemented in Scotland and Wales, EU member state Portugal opposed the measures, on behalf of doing the dirty work for the alcohol industry. Big Alcohol also got France, Italy, Spain, and Bulgaria to oppose the Scottish MUP measure. Back then these countries prioritized the private profits of the alcohol industry over public health and people’s well-being.
The Irish government must be prepared for any possible opposition from EU member states to the new alcohol health warning labeling regulations.
Public Health (Alcohol) Act of Ireland
The Public Health (Alcohol) Act was adopted into law in 2018 in the Republic of Ireland. The government has taken a stage-wise approach and is making steady progress in implementing the different provisions of the Act.
- In 2019, several improvements regarding alcohol marketing rules stipulated by the Act came into force, including bans on advertising in public transport, 200 meters from a school, creche, or local authority playground, in cinemas except for films that are classified as over 18 and on children’s clothing.
- In November 2020, section 22 of the Act came into force which saw the separation of alcohol in specified licensed premises.
- The introduction of this regulation is part of a process to de-normalize alcohol as an ordinary grocery product.
- On January 11, 2021 section 23 of the Act came into force.
- This meant the implementation of measures to de-normalize alcohol in Irish society by banning multi-buy deals, short-term price promotions and loyalty points for alcohol products.
- On November 12, 2021 section 15 which prohibits alcohol advertising in the sports area and section 16 which prohibits alcohol sponsorship came into force.
- On January 4, 2022, section 11 which is the minimum unit pricing (MUP) policy came into effect.
Independent.ie: “Warnings on labels to state link between alcohol and fatal cancers“
Irish Examiner: “Government applies to European Commission for new alcohol consumption warnings“
Alcohol Action Ireland: “GOVERNMENT PUBLISHES DRAFT ALCOHOL LABELLING REGULATIONS“