European Commission criticises parts of alcohol health warning plan

Concerns expressed over label portion used and ad images in international publications

Minister for Health Simon Harris: accepted amendments to the Bill requiring evidence-based cancer warnings. He also agreed health warnings should take up one-third of the label on alcohol products.  Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Minister for Health Simon Harris: accepted amendments to the Bill requiring evidence-based cancer warnings. He also agreed health warnings should take up one-third of the label on alcohol products. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

A number of elements of the Government’s proposed legislation to deal with Ireland’s alcohol problem have been criticised by the European Commission for potentially breaching EU law.

The commission has taken issue with the planned addition of health warnings to alcoholic products, as well as advertising restrictions.

The commission must be alerted if significant amendments are made that could affect competition. Minister for Health Simon Harris accepted Opposition amendments to the Bill requiring evidence-based cancer warnings on all advertising and labels. He also agreed that health warnings should take up one-third of the label on alcohol products.

The commission says the proposed size of health warnings is “disproportionate”. It says it is “very concerned about the impact this requirement would have on the export of beverages to Ireland”.

It also says the Irish authorities did not provide adequate justification for the size of such warnings and the legislation’s aim could be achieved with smaller warnings.

The commission also raises concerns that advertising restrictions could mean that publications for the European market would have to specifically tailored for Ireland.

Broadcast advertising

On the issue of restrictions of broadcast advertising, the commission asks the Government that these will apply only to broadcasters “under Irish jurisdiction”.

Earlier this year, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Government would not accept any further amendment to the controversial legislation.

The Public Health Alcohol Bill took two years to get through the Seanad after intense lobbying on each of its four main provisions – the introduction of minimum unit pricing; structural segregation of alcohol from other products in supermarkets and retail outlets; detailed labelling requirements including health warnings, calorie and alcohol content; and restrictions on advertising and promotions.

The latest observations say: “The commission expresses strong concerns on the proportionality of the requirement that ‘at least one-third of the printed material will be given over to evidence-based health warnings’.

“The commission is very concerned about the impact that his requirement would have on the export of alcoholic beverages to Ireland.

Cancer link

“The commission considers the size of the warnings to be disproportionate to the aim pursued – public health protection – in circumstances where the Irish authorities did not provide any justification in support of the requirement for such a big portion of the label being allocated to health warnings.”

It notes the legislation’s stipulation that advertisements must include “a warning that is intended to inform the public of the direct link between alcohol and fatal cancers”.

“The commission considers that a more targeted approach on restrictions on advertisements could be more appropriate. The proposed prohibition would mean that for instance a magazine distributed all over Europe that contains only one page of advertising which advertises an alcoholic product would need to be reprinted before being lawfully marketed in Ireland.”