Irish Bill on Alcohol: Measures should be aimed at harm, not consumption

In early January 2016, the Irish Government notified the EU of a new Alcohol Bill aiming at “reducing alcohol consumption in Ireland to 9.1 litres per person per annum by 2020, and to reduce the harms associated with alcohol.”  The draft Bill includes provisions for 1) minimum unit pricing of alcohol products; 2) health labelling of alcohol products; 3) stricter provisions on advertising and sponsorship; 4) request for structural separation of alcohol products in mixed trading outlets; and 5) new regulation of the sale and supply of alcohol in certain circumstances.

 

24 April was the deadline for Member States and the Commission to react to the draft proposal.  We are pleased to see that nine countries have issued objections (‘detailed opinions’): Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania and Spain, and the Commission and another two (Netherlands and Slovakia) have issued comments.  These comments and detailed opinions will contain arguments as to why those countries believe the Irish proposals will create barriers to the free movement of goods inside the EU.

 

We are opposed to the provisions contained in the Irish Bill.  We share the objective of reducing alcohol related harm but we disagree on the idea that per capita alcohol consumption is the right target or measure of success in harm reduction.  According to the latest revenue figures, alcohol consumption has already decreased by 25% over the last 15 years and the average adult alcohol consumption decreased again by 0.7% in 2015 compared with 2014.  Underage drinking has also declined dramatically in Ireland for all age groups.  This happened without any of the proposed measures which are disproportionate and will not be effective.  Instead, they will have a series of negative consequences both for the Irish market and the EU single market, including closing the Irish market to new entrants (both national and foreign); reducing the range of product offers available to Irish consumers; adding costs and burdens on producers, advertisers, retailers and publishers.

 

In addition, despite the ECJ judgment on 23 December 2015, the Irish government has proposed minimum unit pricing, but without offering any compelling evidence to show that alternative measures could not have been proposed.  Last but not least, the labelling and advertising provisions are extremely vague.