Alcohol labels will include cancer warnings, Government says

Committee hears the European Commission raised no objection to plan

The Government intends to include a specific warning on bottles and cans that alcohol can lead to certain types of cancer, an Oireachtas Committee has been told.

Minister of State at the Department of Health Catherine Byrne confirmed that long-awaited legislation on alcohol promotion and marketing will include this warning.

The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill passed the Joint Committee on Health stage after Labour TD Sean Sherlock withdrew a number of unannounced amendments.

Mr Sherlock apologised to his parliamentary party for proposing the amendments without consultation. He has, however, publicly defended his amendments and said that while he was not against health labelling as such, “I think the health implications in other areas like suicide, heart disease and pregnancy, should also be considered”.


Ms Byrne told an Oireachtas committee that when the proposal to specify cancer was first put forward in the Seanad it was feared that it would create a “hierarchy of disease” and give the impression that “other serious conditions are less important”.

However, she said that the proposal for a specific warning on the link between cancer and alcohol had gone to the European Commission and it had raised no objection.

The Government is proposing a Public Health (Alcohol) Bill to comply with an EU directive on labelling.

Alcohol Action Ireland says that 900 people in Ireland develop cancer every year as a result of alcohol dependency. Alcohol is linked to many cancers including breast, colon and oral cancer.

Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly said it was “very regrettable” that she read in the newspapers that anyone would suggest that cancer might be not be included on labels in the future.

“We could be here all day discussing the links. The links are established. This is a serious public health issue. I think that we as a committee need to send a very clear message with regard to labelling,” she said.

Fine Gael TD Kate O'Connell said she too supported the inclusion of a warning about the links between cancer and alcohol and it was important that "we don't dilute that down in any way".

She added: “It is important that we as a committee are very clear about the link with alcohol, that any labelling is not tokenism,that it is stark and very clear, unambiguous and fit for purpose”.

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly said he agreed that the link between alcohol and cancer was "compelling".

However, Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan said Irish alcohol producers would be put at a disadvantage if their products were labelled and those from foreign alcohol producers were not.

Ms Byrne told the committee that any alcohol sold in the State would be labelled the same. The Bill will now go to report and final stages in Dáil Éireann, probably early in the autumn session and before Budget 2019.

Alcohol Action Ireland welcomed the findings of the committee. It said it was “reassuring that most members have now accepted that there is a direct link between alcohol and fatal cancers, as well as the need for other information to be displayed clearly and legibly on the products.”

Meanwhile, the latest return from the lobbying register reveal there has been a huge lobbying campaign directed at politicians against cancer labelling on alcohol products.

The data shows almost 30 separate actions this year, involving multiple lobbying of over 100 TDs and Senators, including Government ministers and party leaders.

Groups representing the alcohol industry, vintners, retailers, advertisers and the national media have argued that the requirement is too extreme and not borne out by evidence, will place Irish products at a disadvantage compared to products from other countries, not subject to such labelling.

In addition, it has been argued that the costs for smaller companies would be prohibitive.

Lobbyists include business group Ibec, the Irish Vintners Federation, the Licensed Vintners Association, Irish Distelleries, and PJ Rigney Distillery.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times