Cancer Warning labels on alcoholic drinks in Ireland?

In Ireland, the Public Health Alcohol Bill was introduced in 2015 but it passed all stages in Seaned, the upper house, first in late 2017 and is now returned to the Dáil, the lower house. The bill was up for debate earlier this week.

The proposed legislation suggests to set a minimum unit price for alcohol, introduce restrictions on the display of alcoholic drinks in shops and the marketing of alcohol. The most controversial proposal in the bill is a mandatory warning label saying ”alcohol can cause cancer” on alcohol products.

Distilleries and drink producers have strongly opposed this proposal meaning it could very well become a barrier to free trade as all packaging and bottle designs would need to be remade just for Ireland to conform to the proposed Public Health Alcohol Bill.

DKM Economic Consultants claim the cost to redesign the labelling for a single product line could be as high as 50.000 EUR. DKM Economic Consultants go even further saying these additional costs could make producers choosing not to introduce new products on the Irish market and/or to withdraw current ones due to the cost of rebranding, these two factors should, therefore, be considered as a barrier to the free trade within the EU.

While many of the members of Ireland’s lower- and upper house welcomes every initiative aiming to lower the alcohol consumption in the country some also believes the Public Health Alcohol Bill is one step too far, and many also suggests it would not be favored by the European courts if it was to be challenged (which is deemed highly likely it will be). Already in 2016 the EU countries Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain, raised concerns about the proposed Ireland’s Public Health Alcohol Bill and its effect on trade.

The cancer warning labels are suggested to be put on “alcohol products”. It is not known if it should be on every bottle regardless of its ABV, but it is to be on every bottle regardless if it is produced locally in Ireland or imported into Ireland. It will not, as suggested by some medias, single out Irish produced alcoholic drinks.

Trial in Canada

Ireland is not the first country trying to introduce cancer warning labels on bottles containing alcohol. Yukon, a territory in Canada, introduced a trial having cancer warning labels on bottles containing alcohol in November last year. After harsh criticism from both producers and resellers, the Yukon government pulled the trial and opted for a label stating recommendations on daily drinking limits 

In the UK

The RSPH, the Royal Society for Public Health, said in January earlier this year they want a mandatory warning label on all alcoholic drinks like the ones on cigarette boxes. The proposed labels should include a warning of consuming more than 14 units per week and also a ”graphic link to alcohol-related diseases like bowel and breast cancer” the RSPH told the Guardian in January this year.

In Sweden

Sweden is one of the few countries in the EU having special monopoly stores selling alcohol to the public, Systembolaget. Everything regarding alcohol is restrictive in Sweden, and it may surprise a few to hear there are no current requirements what so ever regarding warning labels on alcoholic drinks in Sweden.

Also, according to Lennart Agén, Systembolagets press officer, there is no current proposed bill considering warning labels on alcoholic drinks. It is, therefore, today completely up to the producer to voluntarily add any warning labels on their products.

Example of this is warning labels warning can be regarding drinking while being pregnant and drinking and driving. These warnings are often seen on beer and cider cans but not on wine bottles or whisky bottles.

The most talked about alcohol-related issues being discussed right now in Sweden seems to be regarding the marketing of alcohol.

Before 2003 all marketing of alcoholic drinks were forbidden. 

Today marketing of alcoholic drinks in printed media or the web are only allowed if the ABV is 15% or less, and the advertisements are only allowed to show directly related objects to the products. This means it is ok to show the bottle and the packaging but not people enjoying drinking it. 

Marketing of alcoholic drinks in radio or TV is strictly forbidden. The major commercial tv channels aimed at the Swedish audience have found a loop-hole by locating themselves and broadcasting from England meaning they are under English law and can, therefore, market alcoholic drinks to the Swedish consumers.

However, this may very well end soon. Two Swedish authorities ”Konsumentverket” and ”Myndigheten för press, radio och tv” was reported in November 2017 to have contacted the EU commission trying to persuade them allowing Swedish authorities making the Swedish alcohol marketing restrictions being applicable to those aiming their marketing towards Swedes no matter where they broadcast from.

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