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Irish parliament approves cancer warning labels on alcohol

Irish parliament approves cancer warning labels on alcohol

UPDATE: The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill has passed through all stages of the Irish parliament.

Ireland's lower house has passed the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which aims to introduce a minimum floor price per unit of alcohol, restrictions on advertising, separation of alcoholic products from retail areas inside shops and cancer warning labels on containers.

There was applause and hugs in parliament as the bill passed this week, almost three years after it was first introduced by Ireland's upper house. The Bill will now return to the upper house for final consideration.

However, the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI) has warned of the “devastating” impact cancer warnings on alcohol labels could have following the introduction of legislation.

Patricia Callan, director of ABFI, said many drinks companies had invested in visitor centres, which attract large numbers of tourists.

“A lot of our companies have invested in visitor centres here because there’s a really strong belief that people love your product globally, they want to visit the home of the brand but here the home of the brand would be the only place in the world in which that product carries a cancer warning,” Callan told the Irish Times.

“Even in terms of attracting 2.6 million people into your visitor centre, do you really want to do that any more because it’s [cancer warnings] going to be hugely devastating.

“While duty free is now exempt, unfortunately in the visitor centres and down around the country where people would traditionally buy the product, those bottles are going to carry cancer warnings and they’ll leave the country and be in drinks cabinets around the world. Beside a bottle of scotch which won’t have a cancer label, will be a bottle of Irish [whiskey], which will.”

There are also fears that the introduction of warning labels will lead drinks companies to cease importing wine into Ireland. 

Calls to scrap parts of the legislation requiring cancer warnings on alcohol labels, in advertising, in pubs and restaurants and on websites have been rejected by the the Irish government.

A number of cross-party backbenchers had been pushing for warnings to be omitted from the legislation, arguing they would damage the alcohol industry when it comes to international competitors.

Also, the inclusion of cancer warnings is likely to make it more difficult to get the provisions on labelling and advertisements cleared by the EU assessment process.

Ireland's drinks industry will become 'a global pariah'

The ABFI has previously argued that "the anti-small business and anti-trade measure" would impact the reputation of Ireland’s quality drinks brands, making it a 'global pariah' and affecting jobs.

It has called for the measures in the Alcohol Bill to be proportionate and evidence-based.

Callan said: “We all agree that alcohol misuse and underage drinking should be addressed, and we support the objective of the Alcohol Bill in this regard. But it is imperative that the end result is a piece of legislation that is effective, evidence-based, compliant with EU law, and does not do undue harm to an important Irish industry.

“As an industry we support giving consumers factual information to help them make an informed choice about their health.

"But this is exactly why a sweeping and heavy-handed ‘alcohol causes cancer’ statement makes little sense.

"Focusing on one health issue alone (cancer) does not give a full or accurate picture to help consumers make an informed choice about their drinking."

John Quinn, Global Brand Ambassador of Offaly’s Tullamore Dew, told the Irish Examiner: “We are growing our business around the world and our distillery and visitor centre are very important elements of that drive.

"The new bill would not allow us to direct tourists to our visitor centre. The amendments would ensure that the tourists to Offaly will be directed to the home of the whiskey they enjoy in their home country.

"This tourist attraction is a very important contributor to the economy of the town and county of Offaly.”