Government to clamp down on sale of cheap drink

Ban on sports sponsorship not included in proposal but issue to be revisited

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar. Now time for action to reduce consumption and tackle alcohol abuse. Photograph: Collins

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar. Now time for action to reduce consumption and tackle alcohol abuse. Photograph: Collins

 

The Government has agreed a range of measures designed to reduce alcohol consumption, with restrictions on the sale of cheap drink and warning labels on bottles and cans among key elements of the plan.

There will also be legal regulation of sports sponsorship for the first time, though there will be no ban on sponsorship by the drinks industry. Advertising restrictions will be introduced.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said the talking about the issue had gone on long enough and it was now time for action to reduce consumption and tackle alcohol abuse.

He said the proposed Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 would be published in the coming months and made law, he hoped, by the end of the year.

Mr Varadkar said it “contains one of the most effective measures in dealing with the misuse of alcohol: minimum unit pricing, which effectively bans low-cost sales of alcoholic products”.

Sporting opposition

The strongest opposition to a ban on sports sponsorship had come from sporting bodies, although the drinks industry had also lobbied against it, he said.

The Minister said the perfect should not be the enemy of the good and the issue would be reviewed in three years.

Mr Varadkar said the issue of alcohol abuse had been debated for six years, since the establishment of the working group on a national substance misuse strategy. “We have been talking about it for too long. It is time to take action,” he said.

Among the key elements of the Bill are provisions to prevent the sale of very cheap alcohol; health labelling and warnings, including calorie counts; powers for environmental health officers to enforce the separation of alcohol within stores and to police minimum unit pricing; legal regulation of sports sponsorship; and restrictions on the advertising and marketing of alcohol, including a broadcast watershed.

It will also be illegal to market alcohol in a manner that is appealing to children.

The Minister said there was an agreement with Northern Ireland that similar measures would be introduced at the same time so that a cross-Border trade in cheap alcohol would not develop.

There was a broad welcome for the Bill. The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland’s Policy Group on Alcohol said it was an important first step in tackling alcohol abuse.

Alcohol Action Ireland also welcomed the Bill, as did the National Off-Licence Association.