Health warnings to be put on alcoholic drink cans, bottles


THE GOVERNMENT is preparing legislation that could see manufacturers of wines, beers and spirits forced to print stark warnings of the dangers of over-consumption of alcohol on bottles, cans and all promotional material.

The revised labelling policy will not be published until the National Substance Misuse Strategy steering group submits a series of recommendations to Minister for Health James Reilly over the coming weeks.

However, the Minister has made it clear he favours more comprehensive warnings about alcohol’s dangers both for pregnant women and general consumers.

The steering group is being jointly chaired by the Departments of Health and Community and is examining a wide range of issues in relation to alcohol policy including labelling and pricing. According to a department briefing note, the proposals will include restrictions on below-cost selling and the introduction of warning labels.

Alcohol is one of the few products that has fallen significantly in price in Ireland over the last decade.

The major retailers that control the vast majority of the off-licence trade have been accused of below-cost selling aimed at boosting business in other areas.

Last week in answer to a written parliamentary question from Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin concerning proposals to legislate for alcohol labelling aimed at pregnant women, Mr Reilly said the department was developing legislative proposals “to provide for the inclusion of health advice/warnings on alcohol drinks containers and on promotional material providing advice for pregnant women on the dangers of consuming alcohol and providing other health information to the consumer at the point of consumption”.

He said labelling was “an important means of informing the consumer about the dangers”.

Speaking yesterday, Mr Reilly pointed to the report, published by the British Medical Journal last week, which linked a variety of cancers to over-consumption of alcohol and said it was a matter of “serious concern”.

He said that “given the high level of consumption in this country this has to be a matter for serious concern. And it is seen as such by this Government.”

He stressed that no final decision had been taken on labelling legislation and said the department would be “waiting attentively for the report of the National Substance Misuse Strategy steering group and their recommendations as to how we should best address this”.

Mr Reilly said he had long been an advocate of the view that alcohol labelling “should include not just the quantum of alcohol but should also include the calorific content”.

According to the briefing note, Irish adults drink “in a more dangerous way than nearly any other country” while Irish children “drink from a younger age and are drinking more than ever before”.

The note also highlights the certainty that “alcohol is a contributory factor in half of all suicides and accounts for up to 10 per cent of bed days in hospitals, while alcohol-related road accidents cost an estimated €530 million in 2007”.