Government moves to reduce alcohol consumption await EU scrutiny

Government moves to reduce alcohol consumption await EU scrutiny

Plans to put health warnings on alcohol products must go before the European Commission before they can be put in place.

The Department of Health has said wide-ranging powers to put health warnings on alcohol labels and limit the advertising of alcohol must first be referred to the European Commission before they can take effect.

The Department has confirmed further sections of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act are to take effect from next year.

Section 4, which allows the HSE to appear at court hearings on licencing applications and provide evidence, will come into effect in November 2022. 

The measure will allow the HSE to voice any concerns it has over the granting or renewal of such licences.

However, there is no timeline on when the warning labels and advertising restrictions will take effect.

Under Section 12 of the act, it would be against the law to sell an alcohol product where the container doesn’t have various warnings on the label.

This includes warnings over the danger of alcohol consumption, the danger of alcohol consumption when pregnant, the direct link between alcohol and fatal cancers, and also include details of a website providing public health information in relation to alcohol.

The act grants the minister powers to prescribe the size, colour, and font type of the printed material of the warnings, among other measures.

Section 13, meanwhile, covers advertising. Again, it says adverts should carry similar warnings to the ones prescribed for labels.

It gives the minister the power to specify the form of these warnings on printed advertising, on websites, and in broadcast forms.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “The powers being commenced are the powers of the Minister for Health to make regulations under sections 12 and 13. The regulations provide the detail of the implementation of those sections.

“Regulations made under sections 12 and 13 must be submitted to the European Commission for assessment under the Technical Standards Directive (Directive (EU) 2015/1535) before they can come into operation.” 

This directive means that any measures can’t be adopted for at least three months after it is submitted to the European Commission. 

If another EU member state issues a detailed opinion on the issue, it could delay the matter for another 4-6 months.

Alcohol Action Ireland, which supports the legislation, said that it was clear that sections of this bill had already faced European scrutiny twice.

A spokesperson said: “What is less certain is why it has taken the Irish government, over three years (1,136 days) now to draft the relatively simple regulations required [to enact these parts of the legislation].

“Alcohol Action want to see all outstanding measures commenced immediately, as the primary objectives of the Act - reducing whole-of-population alcohol use and protecting children from exposure to alcohol marketing - cannot be full realised without coherent implementation.” 

Other provisions of the alcohol legislation have already come into effect.

One visible enactment, which came into force one year ago yesterday, was the so-called “booze curtain” in shops that serve alcohol.

In effect, it means that alcohol products have to be kept in a separate area from other items in a shop.

In many supermarkets, this has resulted in small doors between the alcohol and other items.

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