Alcohol Bill devoid of key expert group recommendations

The National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group reported in February 2012 after three years of study.

The recommendations (most, but not all) of the expert group, set up by the Department of Health, formed the basis of the much-troubled Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015, which is due back before the Oireachtas tomorrow.

This is how the report compares with the bill on key areas.

Sports sponsorship

Report: Drinks industry sponsorship of sport and other large public events should be phased out by 2016 (subsequently pushed out to 2020). The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport as well as the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht dissented.

Bill: Absent. This provision caused considerable opposition among a number of ministers, the industry, and sporting bodies. It was kicked to touch (via a working group) in Cabinet proposals in October 2013 and abandoned in January 2015 on the basis there was no alternative funding available.

Structural separation

Report: The steering group (albeit a majority of its members) recommended that an existing provision in a 2009 act be commenced, requiring mixed-trade retail stores to introduce strict structural (physical and advertising) separation of the sale of alcohol from other goods.

Bill: The bill is close to the recommendation, but it is being done through a statutory code of conduct. The bill gives a retailer three options regarding enforcement, which some say is a slight dilution in terms of cordoning and blocking off alcohol.

Social responsibility levy

Report: Introduce a ‘social responsibility’ levy on the drinks industry to contribute to the cost of social marketing and awareness campaigns on social and health harms of alcohol (The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland, which was on the group, disagreed).

Bill: Absent. This proposal seemed to be simply jettisoned without notice and by October 2013 the Irish Examiner reported that the Government had not agreed to it.

Alcohol Action Ireland has called in the last two budgets for a social responsibility levy for the growing off-licence trade, estimating that a 1% levy would yield €37.4m annually for the State.

Advertising

Report: At a minimum, a 9pm watershed for alcohol advertising on television and radio. Prohibition of all outdoor advertising of alcohol and stringent codes for the print media.

Bill: The 9pm watershed is in the bill, but a complete ban on outdoor advertising is not. In the case of the latter, the bill outlines a range of places where there would be a ban — on public transport, near schools and creches — and there are restrictions on publications.

A statutory regime will replace the current voluntary scheme for copy clearance of alcohol-related ads.

Minimum pricing

Report: Introduce a legislative basis for minimum pricing per gram of alcohol, to curb low-cost selling.

Bill: The provision is in the bill, though enactment is less clear as the Government has been hoping to introduce it alongside similar measures in the North, the latter delayed by the collapse of the Executive. The EU legal barrier was cleared last May when the EU Court of Justice ruled in favour of it after a lengthy legal challenge by Scotch Whisky Association.


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