A piece of legislation known as the Public Health Alcohol Bill was passed through all stages of the Oireachtas as of October 10th, over 1,000 days since it was first introduced.
The Bill will introduce labelling of alcohol products with health warnings, ingredients and calories, minimum unit pricing and restrictions on advertising. The Bill also includes provisions for the sale of alcohol in retail outlets which will see reduced visibility and segregation of alcohol products.
Minister for Health Simon Harris said the Bill aims to save thousands of lives by addressing Ireland’s “unhealthy relationship with alcohol that damages health and harms many families”.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar commended Harris on the passing of the Bill saying: “[The] decision made today will be remembered by history and will save countless lives.”
“This is the first time in the history of the State we have endeavoured to use public health legislation to address issues in relation to alcohol,” said Harris. “It is therefore a groundbreaking measure.”
Regulations regarding the advertisement of alcohol products, as outlined in the Bill, includes a watershed of 9pm for television and radio advertisements. It will also prohibit advertising in certain areas, such as within 200 meters of schools, on public transport or in playgrounds.
The Bill has been before the Oireachtas since 2015 and will be passed into law once signed by President Michael D Higgins. The legislation took two years to pass through the Seanad.
Alcohol Action Ireland (AAI) said that the overall goal of the legislation is to “reduce our per capita alcohol consumption in Ireland from 11 litres to 9.1 litres for every person aged 15 and over by 2020 and to reduce alcohol harm”.
AAI reported that if Ireland were to follow the HSE low-risk drinking of alcohol guidelines, the country’s consumption rate would be 40 per cent lower than it currently is.
According to the World Health Organisation in 2014, 39 per cent of Irish people aged 15 years and over had engaged in binge-drinking or “heavy episode drinking” within the past 30 days.
A Healthy Ireland survey in 2015 showed that 79 per cent of Irish people drink alcohol, 53 per cent on a weekly basis. The study showed that more deprived areas had lower levels of drinking but higher levels of binge drinking. The survey concluded that “drinking to excess on a regular basis is commonplace throughout the population”.
The AAI said that this legislation will treat the problem of misuse of alcohol as the public health issue it is.
Chairperson of DCU Sober Society Adam Healy said: “The hope for us is that the Bill means less young people will be turning to drink at such an early age as they are now and they’re not being exposed to it every time they turn on the television or go into a supermarket.”
Healy said they are hopeful that the Bill will bring “more information regarding safe alcohol consumption from the government itself”. He said that as drinkaware.ie is in association with the beverage company Diageo, it would be “preferable to have a national information service at our disposal regarding alcohol consumption”.
Manager of the DCU student bar, Nubar, David Kineavy said that the Bill will not effect their prices. “They didn’t go up in the Budget so we won’t be putting them up,” he said. Kineavy said that the prices went up for the first time last year due to the Budget but because Nubar no longer has an off license, they won’t be effected by the Alcohol Bill.
Image Credit: Carrie McMullan