Heads of Alcohol Bill published

The Heads of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 have now been published which contain provisions to prevent the sale of very cheap alcohol as well as health labelling and warnings on alcohol products (including calorie counts).

Restrictions on marketing are also included as part of a set of proposals contained in the Bill which was discussed at Cabinet yesterday and which form the basis of the Bill which will now be drafted.

Yesterday, the Cabinet signed-off on “far-reaching” proposals to reduce alcohol consumption and tackle alcohol misuse with the aim of helping Ireland cut alcohol consumption to the OECD per capita average of 9.1 litres by 2020 and reduce the harm associated with alcohol misuse.

Among the new proposals is one giving new enforcement powers for Environmental Health Officers to police and enforce the separation of alcohol within stores when Section 9 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 is commenced by the Department of Justice.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said the proposed Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 is part of a suite of measures designed to reduce alcohol consumption and limit the damage to the nation’s health, society and economy.

EHOs will also be empowered to police Minumum Unit Pricing, health labelling, marketing and advetising of alcohol as well as other measures contained in the Bill.

“Most Irish adults drink too much and many drink dangerously,” commented the Minister for Health, “This legislation is the most far-reaching proposed by any Irish Government. For the first time alcohol is being addressed as a public health measure which makes this a legislative milestone. It deals with all of the important aspects that must be addressed including price, availability, information and marketing.

“This matter has been debated for six years since the establishment of the Working Group on a National Substance Misuse Strategy. A Bill has been on the cards since the Government decision in 2013. We have been talking about it for too long. It is time to take action,” he said.


Advertising & marketing restrictions

The Bill will make it illegal to market or advertise alcohol in a manner that’s appealing to children. It also provides for the making of regulations regarding the marketing and advertising of alcohol and includes provisions, inter alia, for restrictions on broadcast marketing and advertising, cinema advertising, outdoor advertising, print media and the regulation of sponsorship by alcohol companies.

It also provides for controls on the content of alcohol marketing and advertising. The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s General Communication Code will be amended to reflect the requirements of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill in relation to the “marketing and advertising of alcohol and TV and radio” (sic).



The existing Code of Practice for Sponsorships by Drinks Companies will be put on a legal footing with enforcement powers and penalties.

An inter-Departmental Committee chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach found that sponsorship was inextricably linked with marketing and advertising generally and best dealt with in a comprehensive way as proposed in the measures agreed today.

The following measures regarding marketing, advertising and sponsorship of alcohol will be subject to a three-year review to gauge their effectiveness:

  • Restrictions on the advertising and marketing of alcohol from 2016 include a broadcastwatershed on TV and radio with further restrictions due on cinema and outdoor advertising
  • It will be illegal to market or advertise alcohol in a manner that is appealing to children.
  • Legal regulation of sports sponsorship for the first time.

“The Heads contain provisions that recognise that alcohol is not just an ordinary foodstuff,” commented Leo Varadkar, “It contains one of the most effective measures in dealing with the misuse of alcohol: Minimum Unit Pricing which effectively bans low-cost sales of alcoholic products. This measure has the potential to really impact on people who consume alcohol in a harmful and hazardous fashion and it can do so quickly.

“Other measures are equally impressive – calorie and health warning labelling, powers for Environmental Health Officers in premises that sell alcohol, restrictions and regulation of marketing, advertising and sponsorship including sport – and will go a long way in protecting children from the misuse of alcohol and informing consumers about the dangers of alcohol consumption.

“These Heads won’t satisfy everyone,” concluded the Minister, “Industry will complain about the impact on them. Health campaigners will be disappointed that a complete ban on alcohol sponsorship has not been introduced. But I am not prepared to postpone this legislation and continue to have endless discussions and delays. Instead, I’m moving ahead with all key elements of the package including the regulation of marketing, advertising and sponsorship. This will encompass major sporting events for the first time by turning the Code of Conduct into an enforceable regulation. These regulations will ensure that children’s and young people’s exposure to alcohol marketing is considerably diminished.”

Alcohol products which are strong and cheap are those favoured by the heaviest drinkers who are most at risk of alcohol-related illness and death and young people who have the least disposable income.

Alcohol products which are strong and cheap are those favoured by the heaviest drinkers who are most at risk of alcohol-related illness and death and young people who have the least disposable income.




The Bill consists of 20 draft Heads and includes provisions for:

Minimum Unit Pricing for Alcohol Products

This will make it illegal to sell or advertise for sale alcohol at a price below a set minimum price and is designed to prevent the sale of alcohol at very cheap prices.

Alcohol products which are strong and cheap are those favoured by the heaviest drinkers who are most at risk of alcohol-related illness and death and young people who have the least disposable income.

The MUP will be set at a level which evidence shows will reduce the burden of harm from alcohol. It will be set through secondary legislation (regulation) in consultation and will be based on the number of grams of alcohol in the product.

MUP is not expected to affect the price of alcohol in the on-trade and will be set when the Bill is published.





Health Labelling of Alcohol Products

‘Standard Drink’ or ‘units’ are widely misunderstood by the general public. The Health Research Board’s National Alcohol Diary Survey concluded that the Irish population underestimates the amount that they drink, reporting only 39% of their general alcohol consumption.

The Bill provides that labels on alcohol products will contain:

  •        Health warnings and advice (including for pregnancy)
  •        The amount of pure alcohol as measured in grams
  •        The calorie count.

Under the Bill, on-licence holders are obliged to provide this information to customers in relation to alcohol products sold on draught or in measures eg pints, glasses of wine and measures of spirits. Health warnings and advice will also be included on all promotional material.

The Department plans to conduct primary research through focus groups to inform health labelling to ensure clarity and efficacy of message.


New Enforcement Powers for Environmental Health Officers

Provisions to be enforced by EHOs include those in respect of:structural separation of alcohol from other products under section 9 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 when it is commenced

  • Minimum Unit Pricing
  • health labelling
  • regulations relating to the sale, supply and consumption of alcohol products under section 16 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 (to restrict advertising, promoting, selling or supplying alcohol at reduced prices or free of charge).


Industry Reaction

The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland was first to respond to the publication of the heads of the Bill, stating that a new era of engagement must prevail in order to bring about a real and sustained cultural change in patterns of alcohol misuse in this country.

“Drinks industry suppliers and manufacturers want to play a role in the development and introduction of evidence-based solutions that will fundamentally address alcohol misuse,” stated ABFI Director Ross Mac Mathúna, “We’re committed to responsible marketing of our products and we are already subject to some of the most stringent co-regulatory codes of practice on alcohol marketing and sponsorship anywhere in the world.

“We welcome the move towards statutory Codes – and had proposed their introduction – and we look forward to working with government on these. The reality is that legislation is not nimble enough to regulate modern communications.

“We hope that today can mark the beginning of a new era of engagement where all of the relevant parties, from drinks manufacturers and suppliers to publicans, the supermarkets, government departments and medical bodies, can come together to devise and implement evidence-based solutions that will have a lasting impact on alcohol misuse in this country.”

The Licensed Vintners Association has warmly welcomed the Government’s plans to ban below-cost selling of alcohol by introducing MUP having campaigned for the introduction of MUP for several years now.

But LVA Chief Executive Donall O’Keeffe said the minimum pricing unit must be set at a realistic level.

“The LVA is looking forward to taking part in consultation on the new legislation,” he stated, “However it’s important to point out from the outset that the new minimum unit will have to be set above current market prices if it is to have any impact on changing behaviour.”

The new enforcement powers for Environmental Health Officers and the structural separation of alcohol from other products stipulated in the Heads of the new Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 were positive developments but the LVA does not believe the new restrictions go far enough.

“We believe there should be full structural separation of alcohol from other products in the retail environment with separate staff and tills,” said the LVA Chief Executive, “These measures are required to facilitate the new controls and to ensure they are fully enforced.”

The National Off-Licence Association also welcomed the publication of the Heads of the Bill.

“Today is an important day for communities and small businesses all across Ireland” commented NOffLA’s Government Affairs Director Evelyn Jones, “and particularly those involved in the retail of alcohol. NOffLA has long maintained that this Bill is a vital tool in addressing social health and public order issues while also encouraging a sustainable retail environment. The proposed introduction of a Minimum Unit Price is a very positive step, however we remind Government that the effectiveness of the measure is entirely dependent on the introduction of an appropriate price which we believe must be 70 cent per unit of alcohol to have the required impact.

“Furthermore, we commend the Government on its decision to introduce the structural separation of alcohol from other products under Section 9 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 with adequate enforcement power. Structural separation will provide for the clear demarcation of alcohol from other grocery products so that they are not available to under-age purchasers. In addition, this measure will help to ensure that the purchase of alcohol is a conscious and informed decision and not an impulse due to the strategic positioning of alcohol products in aisles and close to tills which is in keeping with Minister’s acknowledgment that alcohol is no ordinary product.”



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