“Proposals don’t address misuse” – ABFI 

Industry response to the publication of The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill by the Minister for Health yesterday has been – as expected – mixed.

The content of the Bill will not meaningfully address misuse stated the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland but it welcomed the Bill’s putting the drinks industry’s strict advertising codes – which include banning promotional campaigns aimed at children – on a statutory footing.

“However the industry is concerned that additional advertising restrictions on content are excessive and their effectiveness is unproven,” stated the Federation.

ABFI Director Ross MacMathúna said that while the drinks industry is looking forward to working with Minister Varadkar to deliver meaningful targeted public health initiatives, it’s important that they are proven to have an impact on misuse and will not simply serve to undermine a sector that’s of great import to the regional Irish economy and future indigenous export growth.

“While this legislation does include measures that the industry has always supported, the bill has draconian measures with regard to advertising that will instigate a series of unintended consequences” he warned, “the upshot of which will be an end to investment in innovation in the sector. It will ban the use of pictures of people having a drink in a pub; it will ban any notion of conviviality; it will ban any sense of atmosphere.

“In other words this legislation will ban displaying the reason that 80% of tourists claim they travel to Ireland – to have a drink in an Irish pub.  We’re already subject to some of the most stringent alcohol advertising legislation in Europe. The positive impact that additional measures will have in this space with regard to reducing misuse is questionable.

“There is, however, proof of the negative impact such restrictions will have and such repercussions will be felt almost immediately: we have seen a similar scenario play out in France when they introduced the Loi Evin.”

This law was introduced to protect the indigenous wine industry. It has led to a reduction in innovation but no reduction in misuse, he claimed.

“New product development will be decimated, the market will simply leave this country – taking with it the most creative and well-paid jobs in the sector,” said Ross MacMathúna, “Furthermore, sports funding will be hugely diminished as this is in essence a sponsorship ban by the back door. Our bid for Rugby World Cup will be wholly undermined.

“There are also omissions from the Bill that – if included – could have had an impact on the target audience. ABFI has sought to work with the Department of Health to regulate online and digital marketing, a key medium when seeking to regulate advertising to under-18s and one which is ignored in this legislation.

“Furthermore, there is no provision for any education measures or any initiatives that might actually have an impact on effecting behavioural change. The industry has worked for years on ensuring the implementation of responsible serving of alcohol and again – we saw no detail about how such measures can be enhanced and supported in the Bill.

“Minimum Unit Pricing as proposed will drive shoppers back over the border to do their shopping as there’s been no agreement with Northern Ireland on concurrent implementation.

“If we were to see MUP introduced – notwithstanding the current appeal to ECJ –  shoppers would once again travel north of the border as there would be at least a 30% differential, even with a bad exchange rate.  It’s worth noting that Ireland already has the most expensive alcohol in the EU along with the highest rates of excise. Punishing moderate drinkers and hard-pressed consumers will not solve the issues associated with alcohol misuse.

“What’s being suggested with regard to labelling wholly undermines my members that are trying to get a foothold in the export market.

“The proposals on structural separation and how alcohol is displayed in shops undermines sensibilities of people and is a true example of nanny-state gone mad.

“The proposed labelling and structural separation changes will have serious implications for Ireland’s indigenous craft beer and craft whiskey businesses that are still trying to get a fair foothold within the market

“The whole population should not be punished because a small minority abuse a product and the unintended consequences of this bill will result in job losses and no decrease in alcohol misuse.”

However a spokesperson for the Department of Health pointed out to Drinks Industry Ireland that the EU requires a three-month notification period for any changes such as any national MUP order and labeling requirement legislation.

The three-month notification period would safely see the Minister past the 23rd December decision of the European Court of Justice.

“However the Minister wants the Bill to be enacted during 2016,” she said.

“The Bill will be rolled out in sections so it will be a phased commencement,” she added.


VFI response

For its part, the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland has broadly welcomed the measures contained in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.

“The Minister’s announcement addresses the issues of availability, price, information and display – all of which are crucial, it stated.

The Federation welcomes the introduction of MUP as it has campaigned for its introduction for some time and now urges “speedy implementation”.

While the VFI would prefer alcohol to be in a physically segregated area with its own till, it stated, “Nonetheless, separation is still a positive step in curbing the irresponsible sale of cheap alcohol. However it needs to be policed appropriately.

“Ultimately, the proposals contained in the Minister’s announcement are long overdue. The VFI, as a key industry stakeholder, has called for action to ensure the safe and responsible sale of alcohol for several years.

“We feel – as do many – that any long-term strategic approach to tackling alcohol misuse must address the core issues of availability, promotion and price,” it concluded.


NOffLA response

The National Off-Licence Association also welcomed the announcement.

“As active members of the communities in which we serve, NOffLA members welcome the introduction of MUP on alcohol  and consider it imperative  that the Minister continues to urgently progress the Bill through its various legislative stages so its benefits can be realised in communities across the country as soon as possible,” commented NOffLA’s Government Affairs Director Evelyn Jones, “Furthermore, we also welcome the commitment to affordable structural separation which will ensure that alcohol will be appropriately separated from other everyday products in retail premises.

“Finally, we believe that in order for MUP to be truly effective, the Government needs to introduce a ban on the below-invoice-cost selling of alcohol. The promotion of branded discounted alcohol is used as a means to drive footfall into multiples to sell other more expensive grocery products and actively encourages irresponsible retailing which is a threat to the broader community through alcohol abuse and anti-social behaviour.

Such a ban would save the exchequer €24 million per annum and is easily achievable using VAT invoices through the Groceries Order or secondary legislation through Section 16 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008, she said.


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