ABFI Director Ross Mac Mathúna was responding to the Oireachtas Health Committee’s report on the Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of the Alcohol Bill.
“The only reference to consumption levels included in the report is inaccurate,” he claimed, “The fact is that there has been a fall in overall consumption of alcohol by approximately 25% over the past 15 years and research published in March in the European Journal of Public Health showed that teenagers in Ireland are drinking less alcohol.
“Recommendations on pricing included in the report fail to take into account that Ireland is the second most expensive country in Europe in which to purchase alcohol,” he continued.
“The latest figures from Eurostat show that wine duty is 634% higher than the average EU figure, beer is 298% higher and spirits 243% higher. Higher pricing does not deter those that want to abuse alcohol but pushing up the price of alcohol further will have unforeseen consequences on the cost of living, our attractiveness as a tourist destination and on consumer confidence.
“Messaging and labelling must be product-appropriate. There is no such thing as a safe cigarette, however alcohol is a very different product which, consumed in moderation, can be part of a healthy diet. We need to enable a cultural shift that sees the quality alcohol products that are manufactured in this country being sipped and savoured.
“ABFI wants to work with the Government to find workable and effective solutions to address misuse.”
ABFI has welcomed the need for appropriate labelling which enables the consumer to make the best informed decision when consuming alcohol. It also welcomes the intention to move the existing marketing, advertising and sponsorship codes from a voluntary to a statutory basis.
“However, if we are going to make a difference to the minority that misuse alcohol in this country, we need to be informed by the facts,” he concluded.
According to a report in the Irish Medical Times, the Department of Health wants the delivery of new mock labels advising the public of the health risks of alcohol by January 8th next.
A potential €150,000 is being set aside for consultants to conduct an evidence review, assessing international labelling provisions and designing mock labels to provide health warnings in a tight four-month contract, states the IMT.
In the report on upcoming alcohol legislation, the Oireachtas Committee recommends that a complementary public awareness campaign should be run to clearly explain labelling to the public.
It also recommends that alcohol labelling “should be treated in a similar fashion to tobacco legislation, to include the following:
- Clear health warnings to be included on alcohol products, indicating that alcohol causes disease;
- the Minister should also consider ensuring that warnings be given prominence with an emphasis on visual, graphic designs for maximum effect”.
The Committee recommends setting the price per unit at the upper end of the range currently being examined, which is understood to be between €0.60 and €1.10.
Other recommendations include:
- Close collaboration between counterparts in Northern Ireland be fostered to ensure a coordinated approach to the implementation of MUP policy to reduce distortions in cross border trade;
- A social responsibility levy be introduced, as recommended by the Steering Group on a National Substance Misuse Strategy, to capture some of the profit which may arise from introducing a MUP to fund awareness and addiction programmes;
- The Minister to provide for more robust regulation in the area of advertising and marketing including social media, with input from independent health professionals and experts;
- A ban on alcohol advertising on television before 9pm be introduced and the means by which outdoor marketing of alcohol could be banned or restricted close to schools be considered;
- The structural separation of alcohol products from other products in mixed retail environments be considered.
“This report sets out a number of recommendations for consideration by the Minister for inclusion in the upcoming Alcohol legislation,” commented the Chairman of the Committee Jerry Buttimer TD who also pointed out, “The Committee supports proposals to put the regulation of alcohol advertising on a statutory basis. However, it does not believe that a weak voluntary code will translate into an effective statutory code. On this basis, we believe that the Minister may wish to consider developing updated regulations, with input from health professionals.”