Alcohol health warnings to tackle bingeing

Alcoholic drinks will carry calorie counts, health warnings, and a minimum price floor under a wide-ranging Government bid to combat abuse.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar denied that the Cabinet was “spineless” for abandoning moves towards stopping drinks giants sponsoring sporting events.

Mr Varadkar said he expected the ban on below-cost-selling to come into force after the outcome of European challenges to a similar move in Scotland, expected this November.

The long-delayed Public Health (Alcohol) Bill will force calorie counts and health-warning labelling on alcoholic drinks in a bid to promote healthier consumption.

Television advertising will only be allowed after a certain time of night, as any marketing appealing to children will be banned.

Mr Varadkar said price controls were essential in the bid to combat binge drinking by setting a price floor.

“That is designed to get rid of very low, cheap alcohol that is being sold in our supermarkets, which is fuelling binge drinking, particularly among young people. Most Irish adults drink too much and many drink dangerously,” Mr Varadkar said, insisting that Ireland needed to reduce its alcohol consumption to the OECD average by 2020.

He denied accusations from former GAA president Dr Mick Loftus that the Government was “spineless” for not breaking the link between alcoholic brands and the sponsorship of sports events. Mr Varadkar claimed organisations needed the €30m a year that such deals brought in, and said a voluntary code on such promotions would now get legal footing.

“Around the Cabinet table, we would still take the view that we would like to ban sponsorship of sports all together, provided alternative finance can be found,” said Mr Varadkar.

“The perfect is the enemy of the good, and I want to push ahead now with the 80% [that everybody] agrees on and then review the whole thing again in three years’ time.”

Alcohol Action Ireland chief executive Suzanne Costello welcomed the move but insisted it did not go far enough. “The decision to place the existing ineffective ‘voluntary code of practice for sponsorships for drinks companies’ on a legislative footing is a significant weakness in the proposal and we call on the minister to re-examine this measure before the bill is published in full,” she said.

“It remains to be seen if the alcohol industry will take a legal challenge with regard to this legislation, specifically minimum unit pricing, as they have done in other jurisdictions.”

Alcohol will have to be clearly separated from other products in shops under the new rules and environmental health officers will be given extra powers to enforce measures.

The Vintners’ Federation of Ireland demanded clarification on unit pricing for alcohol regarding its level and introduction date, while the National Off-Licence Association insisted unit cost levels were key. “The effectiveness of the measure is entirely dependent on the introduction of an appropriate price which we believe must be 70c per unit of alcohol to have the required impact,” it said.

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