The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland has welcomed new figures from the Revenue Commissioners indicating showing that alcohol consumption in Ireland fell in 2017. The new figures come as the second stage debate of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill concludes in the Dáil, during which the majority of TDs raised concerns about the Bill including labelling and advertising restrictions.
In light of this, ABFI is calling on the Government to make reasonable amendments to these measures at committee stage.
“While the drinks industry supports the objectives of the Alcohol Bill, to tackle harmful and underage drinking in Ireland, we believe that any measure introduced as part of this Bill should be rooted in evidence, proportionate and should not represent a barrier to free trade which we believe is currently the case with the Bill as drafted,” said ABFI Director Patricia Callan, “We’re calling on the Government to remove the requirement for a cancer warning label from the Bill. No other country in the world has introduced mandatory cancer warnings on alcohol products. Therefore, it could represent a barrier to free trade. Additionally, such a measure would have a hugely negative impact on small producers, resulting in significant additional costs and logistical difficulties.
“The Alcohol Bill contains measures that would severely restrict the content and placement of alcohol advertising, including a ban on all forms of a storyline in alcohol ads. These strict new rules – which are not proven to work – are being introduced even though the alcohol industry in Ireland already abides by extremely strict codes regulating how alcohol is advertised. We know that these codes work, given the ongoing fall in alcohol consumption. We are seeking an amendment to the Alcohol Bill to allow alcohol advertisements to include storylines.”
Some 14 EU members have warned via submissions to the EU that the Alcohol Bill’s proposals could be found to be in breach of EU Law as it would discriminate against imported goods, describing it as a disproportionate response to the issue of alcohol misuse which could lead to Ireland being brought before the European Court of Justice.
Despite the Member States’ objections to this Bill being submitted some two years ago, the Member States’ comments have received no response from the Department of Health.
According to a report in The Times recently, France argued that the bill “appears to be incompatible” with EU law.
“While it highlighted that Article 36 of the treaty allows for exemptions when the restriction can be justified as protections to the health of humans, ‘the French authorities nevertheless consider that the measures in question are neither necessary nor proportionate to attain this objective’,” reports The Times which added, “Many of the advertising and labelling restrictions in the bill are modelled after the Loi Évin, a policy passed in France in 1991, yet France criticised them. It said they would give an advantage to brands already on the Irish market and questioned the need for products to include a warning about the dangers of alcohol.”
Austria supported a ‘holistic’ approach to the problem, “. . . without creating stringent laws and restricting freedom of choice with regard to the moderate consumption”.
Portugal’s submission cited the proposals as ”a lack of sincere co-operation with EU bodies” while Italy’s submission stated that, “Alcohol consumption in itself does not automatically present a danger to moderate and responsible consumers; it is misuse or abuse that needs to be addressed but does not appear to be mentioned at this juncture”.
According to The Times, “Many countries questioned the logic of the bill, drawing a distinction between tobacco products, which cause harm even in small amounts and alcohol, which they said could be safely consumed in moderate amounts”.
WHO reports fall in consumption
According to the World Health Organisation alcohol consumption in Ireland has fallen by 25% since 2005. Additionally, the latest ESPAD report, published in 2016, showed a significant decline in underage alcohol consumption, with Ireland moving from 8th to 28th out of 33 countries analysed over the course of the study.