Home > Public Health (Alcohol) (Labelling) Regulations 2023 signed into law.

Doyle, Anne ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2776-3476 (2023) Public Health (Alcohol) (Labelling) Regulations 2023 signed into law. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 86, Summer 2023, pp. 11-12.

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In May 2023, the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly TD, signed Section 12 of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 into law, aligning alcohol products with other food and beverage products that already contain health information and, where appropriate, health warnings.1,2 Ireland now leads the world in the introduction of health labelling on alcohol products; no other country in the world has such comprehensive labelling.

Health warning labels

To allow businesses sufficient time to prepare for the change, there is a three-year lead-in time. However, from May 2026, all alcohol products will be legally required to display the following:

  • A warning informing the public of the danger of alcohol use
  • A warning outlining the danger of alcohol use when pregnant
  • A warning informing the public of the direct link between alcohol and fatal cancers
  • The quantity in grams of alcohol contained in the container
  • The calorie content in the container
  • Details of an independent website providing public health information in relation to alcohol use.

The law also requires that similar health information will be available for customers in licensed premises. This landmark legislation marks another milestone with respect to the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018, which aims to reduce alcohol use at a population level and thus reduce alcohol-related harm.

Already commenced thus far as part of the Act are the structural separation of alcohol products in mixed retail outlets; minimum unit pricing; restrictions on alcohol advertising and sports sponsorship; and restrictions on the sale and supply of alcohol, particularly price-based promotions – all of which are based on ‘best buy’ practices to reduce harmful alcohol use, as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).3

‘Best buy’ practices

The WHO ‘best buy’ practices are evidence-based actions proven to reduce the harmful effects of alcohol and include reducing the affordability and availability of alcohol, restricting alcohol advertising, and providing consumers with information (through labels) to indicate the harm related to alcohol. Many countries worldwide have implemented some elements of the ‘best buy’ practices, and alcohol warning labels are already present in a number of countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, France, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United States, but not to the extent of the Irish labelling.

Informing the public

Alcohol was categorised as a Class 1 carcinogen (cancer-causing) in 1988, as its use increases the risk of various cancers: liver, oesophagus, larynx, upper throat, mouth, bowel, and female breast. However, despite the majority of people in Ireland drinking alcohol, many in a hazardous way, awareness of this risk is low,4 particularly the risk associated between alcohol use and breast cancer (just 21% of the Irish public is aware).5 The evidence clearly indicates a need to raise awareness of the harms that alcohol can cause, as stated by Minister Donnelly when announcing the commencement of the health warning labelling:

This law is designed to give all of us as consumers a better understanding of the alcohol content and health risks associated with consuming alcohol. With that information, we can make an informed decision about our own alcohol consumption.1

Opposition to health warning labelling

In the lead-up to the announcement, there had been mounting pressure on the Government to refrain from introducing alcohol labelling, particularly from the alcohol industry. Other jurisdictions had experienced similar resistance. For example, in 2017 in Canada, the Northern Territories Alcohol Labels Study added ‘Alcohol can cause cancer’ warning labels to alcoholic products at a liquor store in Whitehorse, Yukon next to existing federally mandated warnings (about drinking while pregnant, or drink driving).6 The study had planned to run for 8 months but was stopped after only a few weeks following strong alcohol industry lobbying. Spirits Canada, Beer Canada, and the Canadian Vintners Association threatened legal action against the Yukon government, arguing that it had no legislative authority to add the labels and would be liable for defamation, damages for lost sales, and packaging trademark and copyright infringement, because the labels had been added without their consent.

Putting public health first

The introduction of alcohol labelling in Ireland reflects the Irish Government’s commitment to putting health and consumer rights before commercial interests.

1    Department of Health (2023) Ministers for Health bring into law the world’s first comprehensive health labelling of alcohol products [Press release]. 22 May 2023. Dublin: Department of Health. Available from:

2    Office of the Attorney General (2018) Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018. Dublin: Irish Statute Book. Available from: https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/33698/

3    World Health Organization (WHO) (2017) Tackling NCDs: ‘best buys’ and other recommended interventions for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases. Geneva: WHO. Available from: https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/37100/

4    O’Dwyer C and Mongan D (2019) Public awareness of alcohol-related health conditions in Ireland: findings from the Healthy Ireland Survey. Drugnet Ireland, 70 (Summer): 19–21. Available from: https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/31013/

5    Doyle A, O’Dwyer C, Mongan D, et al. (2023) Factors associated with public awareness of the relationship between alcohol use and breast cancer risk. BMC Public Health, 23: 577. Available from: https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/37780/

6    Vallance K, Stockwell T, Hammond D, et al. (2020) Testing the effectiveness of enhanced alcohol warning labels and modifications resulting from alcohol industry interference in Yukon, Canada: protocol for a quasi-experimental study. JMIR Res Protoc, 9(1): e16320.

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 86, Summer 2023
September 2023
Page Range
pp. 11-12
Health Research Board
Issue 86, Summer 2023

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