Alcohol labels will display cancer links after Public Health Alcohol Bill passes in the Seanad
Minister for Health Simon Harris has accepted proposed amendments to alcohol legislation.
Updated at 16:30
The Public Health Alcohol Bill passed through its final stage in the Seanad on Friday afternoon.
The proposed changes will see one third of available space on alcohol products detail health warnings, including links to cancer.
"We in Ireland have a serious problem," said Minister Harris. "We drink too much alcohol and we drink in a way that is harmful to ourselves and those around us. The statistics can still shock even if we have heard them before."
Minister Harris went on to detail what he called "preventable deaths", noting that the 2016 Health Research Board Report found that there were 6,479 alcohol-related deaths between 2008 and 2013, with an average of three related deaths per day in 2013 alone.
"Over 167,000 people suffered an alcohol related assault in 2013," he added.
Harris hailed the Public Health Alcohol Bill as a "landmark piece of health legislation" and the first of its kind.
"I believe that the measures we have agreed here today will make a real and substantial difference," he said. "The last time I stood here I said that it was my aim to reduce the visibility of alcohol in our shops and the measures we have agreed here will do that, for the first time."
The news was welcomed by Senator Gerald Nash, and by the Irish Cancer Society, who praised "a great example of politicians working together in the interest of public health."
Many thanks and well done to Senator Nash and his colleagues for their sterling work in making this happen, and to Minister @SimonHarrisTD for supporting. A great example of politicians of all groupings working together in the interest of public health and cancer prevention! https://t.co/n1DBs6vMeL
— Irish Cancer Society (@IrishCancerSoc) December 15, 2017
Credit to @SimonHarrisTD for accepting an amendment from @labour & Sen Frances Black requiring that a warning on the link between alcohol & fatal cancers be carried in advertising content as well as on alcohol labels #phabsaveslives
— Ged Nash TD (@geraldnash) December 15, 2017
Minister Harris intends to introduce minimum unit pricing, health labelling and regulation of advertising "as soon as possible."
Irish drinks manufacturers have heavily criticised the Minister for Health and the Department of Health for what they have called a "harmful and ineffective" bill.
A statement issued shortly after Minister Harris' remarks accused the government of "failing to address concerns" about the advertising and labelling proposals.
The statement points to a recent report by economic consultants DKM which argues that specific Irish labelling would impose additional costs on producers, adding that such a move "will be particularly harmful for small local producers and new entrants."
In the same report, DKM suggested that there is little evidence to prove the effectiveness of warnings on labels in changing behaviour.
Patricia Callan, Director of Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI) pointed to a thriving drinks industry in Ireland, accusing the government of taking "a great Irish success story" for granted.
“A few years ago, there was only 4 distilleries in Ireland and now there are 18," said Callan. "There will be around 100 craft breweries in the country by the end of this year.
“Yet the Government seems to be taking all of this for granted. Minister Harris and the Department of Health continues to ignore drinks businesses, as it pushes through legislation that will effectively stall and potentially reverse this growth, acting as a huge barrier to entry.
"This is at a time when the sector already faces major uncertainty, with Brexit negotiations ongoing."
Callan underlined that the drinks industry "fully supports" measures to target alcohol misuse and underage drinking, but stressed that "it is critically important that measures are targeted and based on evidence", arguing that this is not currently the case.