The potential conflict with EU legislation was highlighted by 14 Member States two years ago when the Bill was first mooted. The Bill itself has been described by the European Commission as a “disproportionate response” to the issue of alcohol abuse and Member States are sceptical that the move would reduce alcohol consumption here.
However the Department of Health’s response to the EU was released to The Times recently and it stated that the Department chose legislation over education because, “while awareness and marketing campaigns were helpful ways to inform people of the risks, they typically did not change behaviour,” according to The Times report.
The Department added that such campaigns were “extremely costly” and the Irish health service “does not have the resources available to sustain such lengthy campaigns”.
The Department also responded to criticism of the controversial labelling proposals in the Bill, stating that in the absence of harmonising legislation at an EU level, it was free to set the level of protection of public health which it considered appropriate, according to The Times report.
Restrictions on alcohol advertising in magazines proposed in the Bill include a ban on front and back cover alcohol advertising and that publications should not carry more than 20% of alcohol advertising of the total advertising content.
It has been argued that this could favour national alcohol products over imported ones as the former require less advertising.
“A restriction on advertising may reduce sales and hence the volume of goods imported from other member states, however this possibility does not appear to be enough to bring a restriction on the free movement of goods,” submitted the government.
However any decision on which adverts were to be taken would be a matter for each publication, believes the Department which also rejected the view that alcohol was not harmful except in excess, stating, “evidence indicates that there is no sensible limit of alcohol consumption below which the risk of cancer is decreased”.
The bill is being discussed at the Oireachtas health committee today.