Ireland is set to become the first country to introduce mandatory health warnings on alcohol products. Irish Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly signed off on the new policy. The new policy will come into effect on May 22, 2026. The three-year period is intended to give businesses adequate time to adapt to the new public health policy.
Heavy attack on mandatory health warnings by alcohol industry lobbyists
The health warnings on alcohol products are finally coming into effect, overcoming heavy lobbying interference by the alcohol companies.
Informing people about risks linked to alcohol, such as cancer, on the labels of alcohol products are supported by the World Health Organization, have been cleared by the European Union and the World Trade Organization, show increasing evidence of their effectiveness and yet it has been aggressively opposed by alcohol industry bosses worldwide.
Politico reports that Ireland moved once its plans cleared two key hurdles at the European Union and World Trade Organization, which fielded complaints from alcohol companies but declined to block the proposed measure on competition or other grounds.
I welcome that we are the first country in the world to take this step and introduce comprehensive health labelling of alcohol products,” Donnelly said in a written statement, noting that Ireland was also the first nation to ban smoking in enclosed public places, including pubs, back in 2004. “I look forward to other countries following our example.”
As reported by Movendi International earlier this year, the alcohol industry poured all their efforts into blocking health warning labels on alcohol because they do not want to disclose the dangers of their products posed to the public. For example, members of the cabinet for the European Commissioner for Agriculture had met with alcohol giant Diageo shortly after the proposal for health warnings was submitted to the EU.
The level of alcohol industry interference that was displayed through these meetings and other lobby campaigns is cause for concern. Evidence-based alcohol policy solutions should not be subject to the interference of actors with conflicts of interest. Especially when these policy solutions have already been democratically agreed upon as being in the public’s best interest – as is the case for Ireland.
Mandatory health warnings on alcohol products to inform people about the risks linked to alcohol
People in Ireland will be informed about the dangers linked to alcohol through mandatory warning labelling. According to official statements, these warnings will bring alcohol products into line with food packaging requirements in general.
The warnings for alcohol products will convey the following information:
- The fact that consuming alcohol causes liver disease,
- A health symbol that conveys to the public the dangers of consuming alcohol while pregnant, and
- The direct link between alcohol and fatal cancers.
In addition, alcohol products will also be obligated to display the alcohol and calorie content. The labelling will also direct people to the public health website with more information about alcohol, ‘askaboutalcohol.ie‘.
Health Warnings Beyond Product Labels
While introducing comprehensive health warning labelling of alcohol products sold in Ireland, the new policy will also provide for similar health information to be made available at licensed premises.
This law is designed to give of us … a better understanding of the alcohol content and health risks associated with consuming alcohol.
Packaging of other food and drink products already contains health information and, where appropriate, health warnings. This law is bringing alcohol products into line with that.”Stephen Donnelly, Minister for Health, Ireland
Minister of State for Public Health, Wellbeing and the National Drugs Strategy, Hildegarde Naughton, added:
The evidence from the Healthy Ireland survey, carried out annually and based on a nationally representative sample of over 7,000 respondents, shows that significant numbers of Irish people are unaware of the risk of health harms linked with alcohol. Results from these annual surveys include the following:
- 79% were unaware of the risk of breast cancer linked with consuming more alcohol than recommended amounts, and 60% were unaware of the bowel cancer risk;
- 52% were unaware of the increased risk of stomach ulcers, and 49% were unaware of a relationship between alcohol consumption and high blood pressure; and
- those aged between 15 and 24 were typically less aware of the risk associated with heavy alcohol use than other age groups.
Alcohol Action Ireland, a civil society champion for the development and full implementation of the Public Health Alcohol Act welcomed the announcement. Dr Sheila Gilheany, CEO of Alcohol Action Ireland, said:
This is a very significant development in alcohol policy and we commend Minister Donnelly for his leadership in this action.
and believe, that like the smoking ban, other jurisdictions will likely adopt similar labelling measures. We can be proud that Ireland is leading the way in this regard
Dr. Gilheany acknowledged the scale of alcohol-related harms in Ireland and highlighted that awareness about these risks is lacking.
A 2022 report by Ireland’s Health Research Board (HRB) found that while youth are now staying alcohol-free longer, those who do use alcohol are doing so heavily. One in three young people between 15 to 24 years report having an alcohol use disorder. Meanwhile, treatment for alcohol and other drug problems is lagging far behind the need with only 3,319 out of an estimated 578,000 Irish people with an alcohol use disorder obtaining treatment.
At the same time, many Irish people who engage in binge alcohol use or who are dependent on alcohol are not aware of their level of alcohol use. Therefore, they underestimate their own alcohol consumption and the harms that come with it. This is concerning since this group of people is the most at risk of experiencing alcohol harm.
Ireland’s Win a Hopeful Direction for the Future
Ireland’s Public Health (Alcohol) Act and the implementation of its different measures has been closely observed by governments, civil society, the World Health Organizations and others around the world.
Movendi International has supported the development and full implementation of the Public Health Alcohol Act through multiple efforts over the years. Among other activities, Movendi International developed an Alcohol Issues Special Feature on alcohol warning labeling, with latest science to explain how it works and why it’s needed. It also presented best practice alcohol labeling examples, how labeling works and alcohol industry interference against health warning labeling on alcohol products.
Kristina Sperkova, International President of Movendi International comments on the latest news:
We congratulate Ministers Donnelly and Naughton and we applaud our partners in Ireland, Alcohol Action Ireland, Alcohol Forum, and ICAAN for this public health win.
Ireland’s efforts for and commitment to protecting people and communities from alcohol harm through world-class alcohol policy solutions is inspiring and trailblazing.
It’s inspiring because the Irish government is living up to its human rights responsibility to protect people from avoidable harm through proven and effective solutions. We have seen how aggressively multinational alcohol companies have lobbied to derail, delay, and destroy lives-saving alcohol policy measures. But with the help of civil society, community groups, and academia, the Irish government put the public interest before the greed of alcohol companies.
It’s trailblazing because a comprehensive set of solutions is implemented in an ambitious way to lower population-level alcohol use, change the Irish alcohol norm, create more healthy and inclusive environments, and promote health for all. With this approach, many more people and communities in Ireland will thrive and Ireland has become a global role model for other countries who face heavy alcohol burdens and alcohol industry interference.Kristina Sperkova, International President, Movendi International
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 a conversation for the Alcohol Issues podcast, host Maik Dünnbier talked with Sheila Gilheany about the Public Health (Alcohol) Act. They took a deep dive into the alcohol policy model of Ireland. Sheila described from a scientific and a human perspective why alcohol policy development is so important for Irish society.
As the country adopted a comprehensive set of policies in the Public Health (Alcohol) Act, Sheila explains how that happened and shares inspiring lessons learnt. Maik and Sheila also talk in more detail about the different provisions of the alcohol law and how they work.
- 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.