MUP and advertising regulation tackled in new Public Health (Alcohol) Bill

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Following a Cabinet meeting yesterday the Government has today approved a package of measures to deal with alcohol abuse.

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24 October 2013

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The Minister of State for Primary Care at the Department of Health Mr Alex White explained that the measures are to be incorporated into the first-ever piece of public health legislation to address the problem, the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.

“It is the first time alcohol misuse has been addressed as a public health issue,” he stated, “The Government has recognised the severe consequences of the misuse of alcohol – including deaths, injuries and social and financial problems – and has determined to take action to address this problem.”

The package of measures to be implemented will include provision for Minimum Unit Pricing for alcohol products and the regulation of advertising and marketing of alcohol.

The package of measures is based on the 2012 Substance Misuse Report which identified that the misuse of alcohol could only be addressed through a range of complementary measures, rather than through any one single initiative.  

The key measure approved by the Government is the drafting a Public Health (Alcohol) Bill to provide for:


1) Minimum Unit Pricing for retailing of alcohol products:

 

  • MUP sets a minimum price for per gram of alcohol in the product
  • It will target cheap alcohol relative to strength – particularly low-cost products in the off-trade, especially supermarkets


2)  Regulation of marketing and advertising of alcohol, specifically to:

      a) Limit advertising of alcohol on TV and radio from 2016 to evening hours 

      b) Limit advertising of alcohol in cinemas to films classified as over 18s

      c) Restrict advertising of alcohol in outdoor media from 2018 with a statutory Code of Practice to govern such advertising in the interim.

 

  • Work will be undertaken with relevant government departments to put in place a process which will identify the forms, frequency and prevalence of outdoor media advertising to be either encompassed or exempted from any restrictions

      d) Advertising of alcohol in print media will be regulated by way of a statutory code

      e) Set limits on how alcohol is portrayed in advertisements (eg prowess or sexual content).


3) Enforcement powers will be given to Environmental Health Officers in relation to:

      a) Regulations relating to the sale, supply and consumption of alcohol products under section 16 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008

      b) Structural separation of alcohol from other products under section 9 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 which may be commenced

      c) Any provision(s) of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill which require enforcement measures.

4) Structural Separation

The Departments of Justice and Equality and Health have agreed a three-step approach to provide for the structured separation of alcohol from other products in mixed trading outlets.  This involves replacing the current Voluntary Code with a Statutory Code under Section 17 of the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011 and after two years both Departments will review its effectiveness in achieving the policy objectives of Section 9 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008.

5) Regulation of sports sponsorship 

The government recognises the public health concerns associated with alcohol sponsorship of sport and the potential impact of any regulatory measures on funding for sports organisations

     a) The existing Voluntary Code that governs sports sponsorship will be  placed on a statutory footing.

A working group chaired by the Department of An Taoiseach will report within 12 months on:

           i) The value, evidence, feasibility and implications (including the public health consequences for children and young people) of regulating sponsorship by alcohol companies of major sporting events

          ii) Its consideration of financial implications and alternative sources of funding for sporting organisations to replace potential lost revenue arising from any such regulation.

     6) Health labelling of alcohol products which will see: 

        a) Health warnings and advice (including for pregnancy) on all alcoholic drink containers (bottles, cans etc.) and on promotional materials

        b) The amount of pure alcohol as measured in grams and the calorie count contained in each container/measure on the label/container.

Other measures agreed by Government

1) Public health messaging relating to alcohol will be based on grams of alcohol and that weekly low-risk drinking guidelines should be 168 grams (17 standard drinks) and 112 grams (11 standard drinks) for men and women respectively.

2) The other measures (eg for the HSE, professional bodies etc) set out in the National Substance Misuse Strategy, upon which provide the recommendations and evidence for today’s decision, are endorsed and are to be progressed by the relevant departments and organisations as set out in that report.

There was a 161% increase in the numbers of off-licences opening between 1998 & 2010. Over the same period the number of pub licences decreased by 19%.

The Government also seeks to reduce Ireland’s consumption of alcohol to the OECD average by 2020 (ie 9.1 litres of pure alcohol per capita).

Welcoming the Government decision Minister for Health Dr James Reilly said, "Alcohol misuse in Ireland is a serious problem with two thousand of our hospital beds occupied each night by people with alcohol related illness or injury. This impacts on families and individuals at every level of society. It’s deeply worrying too that young people are starting to drink earlier and to drink more. The average Irish person over the age of 15 is consuming the equivalent of a bottle of vodka a week. The Government is committed to tackling these problems and this week’s decision marks a significant further step in that direction to create an environment where responsible consumption of alcohol is the norm”.

Drinkaware.ie response
Drinkaware.ie responded swiftly to the Government announcement.

“Any measures that help to counteract the problem of alcohol misuse in Irish society are welcome and in that sense I broadly welcome the thrust of the Government announcement,” stated the Chief Executive of drinkaware.ie Fionnuala Sheehan, “However, I regret to have to say that this initiative by Government is also a missed opportunity in that it failed to embrace all the relevant stakeholders including drinkaware.ie which is the most successful Irish alcohol social responsibility initiative targeting the critical 18-24 age cohort.”
 
She continued, “I genuinely believe the most effective way to achieve real success in tackling alcohol misuse is through all stakeholders working together. This approach must also include the whole of Government, not just the Department of Health, important and all as that Department is and the overall lead needs to come from the Taoiseach’s Department”.
 
She also said the Government’s Strategy is significantly unbalanced with a focus very much on alcohol supply reduction actions (through price and alcohol access restrictions) but with insufficient focus on alcohol demand reduction actions, especially in the area of education, key life skills and resistance skills development. 
“Actions supporting development of key life skills and resilience across all age groups is all the more urgent in the current economic environment which has placed unprecedented pressures on so many people”.
 
She said that the problem of alcohol misuse “is a complex societal and cultural issue. The drinkaware.ie Responsible Drinking Programme is the single biggest communications programme designed to change attitudes to alcohol misuse ever undertaken in Ireland. It’s research led and independently evaluated, and over €20 million (in cash and in kind) has been invested in this programme over the last six years”.
 
The drinkaware.ie Chief Executive also cited the effectiveness of the RSA Road Safety Strategy in reducing road fatalities. She pointed to the fact that it involved all stakeholders and has included rigorous enforcement of drink-driving legislation alongside a sustained education and communications programme that could be emulated in the Government’s strategy against alcohol misuse.
 
NOffLA response
In welcoming the Government announcement NOffLA commended Minister Alex White and the Department of Health.

“In particular, we welcome the enforcement of Section 16 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act, which will be enforced by Environmental Health Officers and will restrict advertising, promoting, selling or supplying of alcohol at reduced prices of free of charge,“ commented NOffLA Chairperson Evelyn Jones, “We believe that this will go a long way to ensuring Ireland has a more responsible relationship with alcohol.”
Her members also welcomed the abolition of the voluntary Code of Practice on the sale and display of alcohol in Ireland which had been used to regulate the sector.

“We hope that should a statutory Code of Practice fail to deliver structural separation that the Departments of Health and Justice will stand by their commitment to review the Code of Practice after two years and enact Section 9 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008. ?
“Structural separation of alcohol products in mixed trading premises is of paramount importance as it will allow consumers to make the conscious decision about whether or not to purchase alcohol. Structural separation will also mean that children will no longer be confronted with alcohol every time they enter a supermarket.
 
“These measures will go a long way in providing for the responsible retail of alcohol in this country”, she concluded.

 

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