Home > Alcohol Action Ireland welcomes the publication of the Public Health Alcohol Bill.

[Alcohol Action Ireland] Alcohol Action Ireland welcomes the publication of the Public Health Alcohol Bill. (09 Dec 2015)

URL: http://alcoholireland.ie/

“The Public Health Alcohol Bill is a landmark piece of legislation and a critical first step in addressing one of our most significant public health problems. Alcohol misuse claims three lives every day in Ireland and has a hugely damaging impact on our nation’s physical and mental health,” said Conor Cullen, Head of Advocacy and Communications.

“It’s also important, in the context of legislation, to remember that the harm caused by our alcohol consumption extends far beyond the individual who is drinking, to impact on families and communities throughout Ireland. Alcohol places a huge burden on our health services, costs the State an estimated €3.7 billion per year and is a major contributory factor to serious issues such as road safety, crime, self-harm, suicide, domestic violence, and child welfare.

“The measures within the Bill are a very important and positive first step in our efforts to reduce alcohol harm and improve our health, safety and wellbeing. Most importantly this legislation can save lives. The three key evidence-based areas required for changing a harmful drinking culture – alcohol pricing, marketing and availability – are represented in the legislation, which is very encouraging, as is the move to introduce labelling, with health information provided by the State.

Minimum Unit Pricing

“Minimum unit pricing (MUP) is a particularly important measure as, by setting a ‘floor price’ beneath which alcohol cannot legally be sold, it is designed to stop the sale of strong alcohol products at very low prices in the off-trade, particularly supermarkets. The widespread availability of such cheap alcohol has caused such a dramatic shift in our patterns of alcohol consumption. However, MUP will have no impact on the price of alcohol sold in pubs, clubs or restaurants and will have little or no impact on those who drink in a low-risk manner. As well as being supported by the medical and public health sectors, MUP is also supported by Ireland’s publicans and off-licence owners.

“MUP can save lives precisely because it targets only the strongest and cheapest drinks, which are the alcohol products favoured by two groups most vulnerable to alcohol-related harm - the very heaviest drinkers among us, who generally seek to get as much alcohol as they can for as little money as possible, and our young people, who generally have the least disposable income and the highest prevalence of binge drinking. The introduction of this life-saving measure has been delayed in Scotland due to a legal challenge by the alcohol industry and a decision is due from the European Court of Justice before the end of this year. However, the preceding opinion indicates that MUP for alcohol is not precluded by EU law if it is considered to be a better measure than taxation for reducing alcohol harm, which the evidence shows it is.

Alcohol marketing
“Reducing children’s exposure to alcohol marketing is a child protection issue and therefore this Bill’s measures to restrict and deglamourise alcohol marketing is very important, as this marketing is a sophisticated and powerful influence on children’s drinking expectations and behaviour. Ultimately, increased exposure to alcohol marketing increases the likelihood that adolescents will start to use alcohol, and to drink more if they have already started.

“We are disappointed that the recommendation of the National Substance Misuse Strategy to phase out alcohol sponsorship of sport completely has not been included, though the regulation in respect of on-pitch advertising at least indicates that the Government recognises the link between alcohol and sports is one that needs to be broken. While this Bill does not fully address the increasingly pervasive influence of alcohol marketing on our children and young people, particularly in respect of digital marketing, it contains some very positive regulations and, most importantly, will reduce children’s exposure to alcohol marketing and finally move us away from many of the existing systems of industry self-regulation and voluntary codes governing these areas, which have proved wholly ineffective.

Opposition to the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill
“We have seen before that when we regulate effectively to protect public health and safety, as we did with tobacco legislation, there can be great benefits for Irish society, and the Public Health Alcohol Bill has the potential to have a similar impact in respect of our harmful relationship with alcohol. We know that the Bill and the measures contained within it will come under sustained attack from the alcohol industry and, like the tobacco industry before it, we have already seen scaremongering about the economy, jobs and tourism, and talk of legal action.

“We can expect this type of campaigning to intensify in the months ahead. However, our legislators and all those genuinely concerned with reducing alcohol-related harm in Ireland must resist the pressure the alcohol industry will continue to exert in relation to the Bill and continue to put the health and wellbeing of the Irish people first until it is fully implemented.”


For further information or comment please contact Conor Cullen, Alcohol Action Ireland, on 01-8780610 or 087-9950186.

Learn more about minimum unit pricing and how it works

Some key questions on alcohol regulation

What about the legal challenge to MUP?
The Scottish Government introduced minimum pricing in May 2012. The bill was challenged by several alcohol industry bodies, who claimed that minimum pricing breaches the UK’s European Union (EU) Treaty obligations because it would restrict trade. However, in May 2013 the Court of Session, Scotland’s supreme civil court, ruled in favour of the legality of the Scottish Government’s plans to introduce minimum pricing. This ruling was appealed and the matter came before the European Court of Justice which delivered its opinion on the case in September 2015, with a final decision due later this year.
The Advocate General communicated in his opinion that MUP for alcohol is legal ‘on condition that it shows that the measure chosen presents additional advantages or fewer disadvantages by comparison with the alternative measure’, which is taxation (excise duty). The Scottish Court of Session has already considered this matter and is of the view that taxation is ‘likely to be less effective in achieving the legitimate aims which the minimum pricing measures pursue’.
As the final test for whether or not MUP meets this condition rests with the national courts, the Scottish Government is proceeding with its plans to introduce this life-saving measure. MUP has a number of distinct advantages over taxation, primarily that it can effectively target the heaviest drinkers in society, while having little or no impact on those who drink in a low-risk manner. MUP is a vital public health measure as the cheapest, strongest drinks are the alcohol products favoured by those who are alcohol dependent, who generally seek to get as much alcohol as they can for as little money as they can and are most at risk of alcohol-related illness and death. They are also favoured by our young people, who generally have the least disposable income and are the most price sensitive alcohol consumers.
MUP is able to target the very cheapest off-trade alcohol relative to its strength because the price is determined by, and directly proportionate to, the amount of alcohol in the drink. However, it would not affect all off-trade alcohol, only the very cheapest products, and would only have absolutely no impact on the price of alcohol sold in pubs, clubs or restaurants, which is way above any proposed MUP threshold. By setting a ‘floor price’ for alcohol that cannot be undercut MUP is therefore a more targeted measure than increasing excise duty, which applies to all alcohol products and consumers equally, while, unlike excise duty, it cannot be simply absorbed be absorbed by large multiple retailers who can then off-set it by increasing the prices of other goods, ensuring that deeply discounted alcohol remains a ‘loss leader’, as well as a significant public health problem.

Would banning below-cost selling of alcohol not have the same effect as MUP?
A ban on below cost selling would be far less effective than MUP and also much more difficult to enforce. There is no agreed definition of below-cost selling in Ireland or how it could be calculated. However, if below-cost selling is interpreted as alcohol being sold below VAT and excise duty then a relatively small amount of alcohol is sold at this price in Ireland and a ban on below-cost selling in Ireland has been estimated to have almost no impact on population consumption.
The cheapest priced alcohol generally skims the top of combined VAT and excise duty. Defining cost as just excise duty and VAT, means ignoring the manufacturing, transportation and retail costs associated with the product. In other words, it is not a true reflection of the total costs. Working out a cost price of alcohol, that incorporates all of these contributing costs, would be a complex and expensive exercise, making a ban on below-cost selling of alcohol almost impossible to implement, monitor and enforce.
A model-based appraisal of MUP in the Republic of Ireland, commissioned by the Department of Health, found that “a ban on below-cost selling (implemented as a ban on selling alcohol for below the cost of duty plus the VAT payable on that duty) would have a negligible impact on alcohol consumption or related harms”.

Do we not already have regulations to protect children from alcohol marketing?
In Ireland the regulation of alcohol marketing is not governed by legislation, but is undertaken by the alcohol and advertising industries, mainly through a range of voluntary codes of practice. Every day, in many different ways and through many different channels – whether it’s social media, TV, billboards, sports sponsorship, product placement in films or music videos – Irish children are continuously exposed to positive, risk-free images of alcohol and its use. These all work to reinforce one another and are sophisticated and powerful influences on children’s drinking expectations and behaviour. Ultimately, they all work together to sell more alcohol. Alcohol marketing including advertising, sponsorship and other forms of promotion, increases the likelihood that adolescents will start to use alcohol, and to drink more if they have already started.
Like most systems of self-regulation in Ireland, the industry codes governing alcohol marketing have proven to be wholly ineffective. While most of these codes are said to be in force to protect children and young people from exposure to alcohol marketing, alcohol advertisers do not always comply with them. Even when complied with, the codes are inadequate and out of date, particularly in respect of digital marketing. Alcohol marketing has colonised many of the worlds in which young people spend their time – the worlds of music, sport and the Internet - and it often seeks out and finds young people in these worlds, uninvited.

Item Type:News
Source:Alcohol Action Ireland
Date:9 December 2015
Subjects:A Substance use, abuse, and dependence > Prevalence > Substance use behaviour > Alcohol consumption
B Substances > Alcohol
MM-MO Crime and law > Substance use laws > Alcohol (liquor licensing) laws
VA Geographic area > Europe > Ireland

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