Alcohol labelling… what it’s all about

Enacted in October 2018, Section 12 of the Public Health Alcohol Act states that:

It shall be an offence for a person to sell, to a person who is in the State, an alcohol product the container of which does not bear in the prescribed form—

(i) a warning that is intended to inform the public of the danger of alcohol consumption,
(ii) a warning that is intended to inform the public of the danger of alcohol consumption when pregnant,
(iii) a warning that is intended to inform the public of the direct link between alcohol and fatal cancers,
(iv) the quantity in grams of alcohol contained in the container concerned,
(v) the energy value expressed in kilojoules and kilocalories contained in the container concerned, and
(vi) details of a website, to be established and maintained by the Executive, providing public health information in relation to alcohol consumption.

Why it is needed

Inform the public of the danger of alcohol consumption

There are four alcohol related deaths in Ireland every day; three of the four are from alcohol related illness where people are ensnared by an illness they were unaware of or believed would never apply to them.

Inform the public of the danger of alcohol consumption when pregnant

Ireland is estimated to have the third highest prevalence of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

A comprehensive study 2014 (Source: www.bmjopen.bmj.com), carried out in Ireland, Australia, the UK and New Zealand, found that Ireland emerged as the country with the highest rates of drinking, both before (90%) and during (82%) pregnancy, and of binge drinking, before (59%) and during (45%) pregnancy.

Inform the public of the direct link between alcohol and fatal cancers

Alcohol is classified as a group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as there is a proven, causal link between alcohol and several types of cancer.

There is no ’safe’ threshold of alcohol consumption and even low to moderate amounts of alcohol are a risk when it comes to cancer. (Source: www.euro.who.int)

A recent global Lancet study found that in 2020 there were approximately 1000 alcohol related cancer cases in Ireland – 670 in men and 380 in women. (Source: www.thelancet.com)

Such health warning labels will ensure that the public is fully informed of the health risks associated with alcohol use.

The mandatory inclusion of the HSE website ‘Ask About Alcohol’ on all products and advertisements, denies the alcohol industry – Drinkaware.ie (a UK licensed entity) – the role of alcohol educators.

Citizens have a Right to Know…

In a democratic society, citizens hold a fundamental right to timely information as an entitlement and not as a grant of producers or industry. Citizens are autonomous, independent agents with the right to make informed decisions regarding their health and well-being. To be effectively informed one must be in possession of the information to make informed choices and decisions.

The principle of informed choice is evident in the field of health and social care and enshrined in national health policies. This recognises the right of citizens to be given clear, relevant and quality information in order to make informed decisions, rights underpinned by Charter of fundamental rights of the European Union and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Why the years delay? Here’s what the Minister said…

The latest position (PQ: 22 April, 2022) from the Minister for Health on the delay:

“Sections 12 of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 empower the Minister for Health to make Regulations on the labelling of alcohol products and the content of advertising respectively.

Work on commencement of these sections of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act was suspended throughout 2020 and much of 2021 due to resources being diverted to COVID-19 related areas; that work has now restarted.

Draft regulations under section 12 of the Act have been developed and are currently with the Office of the Attorney General for settling.

In relation to section 12 of the Act, Ireland is required to notify the draft regulations to the European Commission under the Food Information to Consumers Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011.”

This inordinate delay is inexcusable. The EU Commission has previously scrutinised the Irish legislation and afforded passage of the Bill, back in 2018, recognising that under Reg 1169/2011, Member States may adopt measures mandatory particulars to protect public health.