Irish Cancer Society welcomes decision to include cancer warnings on alcohol

Minister for Health Simon Harris had previously seemed to accept amendments to controversial Bill aimed at reducing consumption

The initaitive to include cancer warnings on alcohol products has been championed by Indepedent Senator Frances Black. File photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

The initaitive to include cancer warnings on alcohol products has been championed by Indepedent Senator Frances Black. File photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

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The Irish Cancer Society has welcomed Minister for Health Simon Harris’ reversal of a major concession he made in controversial alcohol legislation by reintroducing cancer warnings on labels.

Last weekend, the Minister seemed to have accepted amendments to the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill submitted by 12 backbenchers drawn from Fine GaelFianna Fáil and Independents.

They proposed to delete the inclusion of cancer warnings on alcohol labels, in advertising, in pubs and restaurants and on websites on the grounds that it would damage the Irish alcohol industry against its international competitors.

However, following a series of meetings with officials, and discussions with the Opposition, Mr Harris decided to include the warning labels as part of the Bill.

Head of Services & Advocacy at the Irish Cancer Society, Donal Buggy said: “This is a very welcome development which re-affirms support for the inclusion of cancer labelling in the Bill, and positions Ireland as a global leader in public health.”
“Ireland is now a leader in the field, thanks to this provision and alongside the hugely important and innovative actions in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which will help change our relationship with alcohol and pave the way for others to do so too.”

He had the choice of including it as part of the legislation, or at a later stage by way of regulations. From an EU perspective, the inclusion of it in the Bill might be problematic. However, groups who have lobbied for cancer warnings to be introduced have welcomed the change of mind by the Minister.

The initiative to include cancer warnings on alcohol products has been championed by Independent Senator Frances Black.

The Minister’s spokesperson said last night, it was Mr Harris’s clear policy intention to use labelling to show the link between alcohol and cancer.

“He has considered the wide range of views expressed in recent days and concluded that this should be achieved through primary legislation,” she said.

It was pointed out that this was not “without risk”.

While the European Commission did not issue a negative opinion on the cancer labelling provision when notified, the inclusion of cancer warnings is likely to make it more difficult to get the provisions on labelling and advertisements cleared by the EU assessment process.

Fianna Fáil spokesman on health Stephen Donnelly said last night: “Fianna Fáil has been committed to the cancer warning being in primary legislation from the start. Our position on that has never changed. I am very happy to see the Minister has come to the view.”

Louise O’Reilly, Sinn Féin spokeswoman, said it was a very welcome move and would protect the integrity of the Bill.

“It shows the intense lobbying from the industry does not work,” she said.

The Bill seeks to reduce alcohol consumption in Ireland and also reduce the harmful effects associated with alcohol.

The Bill proposes minimum unit pricing; health labelling; advertising restrictions; and separation of alcohol products from other items in retail outlets. It has been the subject of significant lobbying since it was introduced more than three years ago.

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