The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI) has warned of the “devastating” impact cancer warnings on alcohol labels could have following the introduction of legislation.
Patricia Callan, director of ABFI, said many drinks companies had invested in visitor centres, which attract large numbers of tourists.
“A lot of our companies have invested in visitor centres here because there’s a really strong belief that people love your product globally, they want to visit the home of the brand but here the home of the brand would be the only place in the world in which that product carries a cancer warning,” Ms Callan said.
“Even in terms of attracting 2.6 million people into your visitor centre, do you really want to do that any more because it’s [cancer warnings] going to be hugely devastating.
“While duty free is now exempt, unfortunately in the visitor centres and down around the country where people would traditionally buy the product, those bottles are going to carry cancer warnings and they’ll leave the country and be in drinks cabinets around the world. Beside a bottle of scotch which won’t have a cancer label, will be a bottle of Irish [whiskey], which will.”
Ms Callan was speaking after the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill passed through the Dáil on Wednesday evening. It will now go back to the Seanad for final consideration.
The Bill introduces minimum unit pricing, segregation of alcohol from other products in retail outlets, advertising restrictions and a broadcasting watershed.
Ms Callan said the ABFI’s priority was to ensure a group of relevant stakeholders was set up to work through the practicalities of implementing the legislation.
Ms Callan said she hoped Minister for Health Simon Harris "starts to engage with the [drinks] industry because he hasn't engaged to date".
“He has a very strong focus on public health and I think that’s right, we support the objective of tackling misuse and underage drinking and reducing overall consumption but, at the same time, you do have to balance that out with do the measures actually work, are they proportionate, are there less free trade infringing measures that you could take.
“We’re certainly not satisfied that things like the cancer warning are proportionate or evidence based and we’ll continue to make that case as they have to go through the notification process through the EU.”
The Department of Health said it conducted a consultation with the alcohol industry and other relevant stakeholders "on appropriate transitional times for the labelling requirements".
“The Minister last night during the debate indicated that his department would work with stakeholders in relation to the separation and visibility of alcohol products and advertisements for alcohol products in specified licensed premises,” a spokeswoman said.
Minister for Health Simon Harris described the Bill as “groundbreaking legislation” because, for the first time in the State’s history, they had used public health policy to deal with alcohol.