The Journal.ie 21 February 2019; Stephen McDermott
Laws prohibiting the advertising of alcohol within 200 metres of schools will come into effect later this year.
AN ADVERTISING GROUP warned the government that it could take legal action over new laws that will prohibit alcohol ads near schools and on public transport.
The Outdoor Media Association (OMA), a group representing Ireland’s three largest outdoor media companies, issued the warning amid concerns over the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which passed in the Dáil following years of debate last year.
From 12 November, alcohol ads in or on public transport vehicles, at public transport stops or stations, and within 200 metres of schools, crèches and playgrounds will be banned by law.
The laws will also prohibit alcohol advertising in sports areas during sporting events and at events aimed at children or where the majority of participants are children from 2020.
However, in a letter to Minister of State for Health Promotion Catherine Byrne last September, OMA president Joanne Grant claimed the bill would have “negative and unintended consequences”.
The correspondence, released to TheJournal.ie under the Freedom of Information Act, appealed for changes to be made to the bill to avoid the passing of “a bad law”.
It also warned that the group could “enforce any and/or all legal remedies available” if the amendments it suggested were not made to the Bill.
“In short, there are provisions in the Bill which relate to outdoor advertising which are both unenforceable and unworkable,” Grant wrote.
“These provisions are disproportionate and will have the unintended effect of driving alcohol advertising en masse to unregulated and more persuasive media i.e. online and social media, which the Bill has completely ignored”.
Instead, the OMA lobbied Byrne to have two aspects of the bill amended, which it claimed would be “highly effective” in helping the legislation achieve its objectives.
‘Next to impossible’
The group suggested that the government halved the distance at which alcohol advertisements were restricted near schools, crèches and playgrounds from 200 metres to 100 metres.
It claimed that the perimeter of a distance restriction of 200 metres would be “next to impossible” to verify legally if the Bill was passed, and said the distance was “an arbitrary figure” with no scientific basis.
“The 200-metre perimeter limit has no basis in hard evidence or fact and appears to be based on a US marketing website for Blue Line Media, a company which sells entirely different outdoor advertising formats in the USA,” Grant wrote.
“The practical solution is to amend the bill to provide for a 100 metre exclusion zone from the principal public entrance of schools, early learning centres and playgrounds.
This 100-metre distance is measurable and is based on independent expert evidence and academic findings. It is beyond the accepted maximum viewing distance for outdoor formats in the Irish marketplace.
The group also said there were “very severe” restrictions already in place on copy on all outdoor ads and said a ban on public transport formats would hit 74% of its alcohol advertising.
It claimed that 200-metre exclusion zones would “amount to a virtual full ban on outdoor advertising”, leading to a diversion of alcohol advertising revenue to “more persuasive” online media.
“Therefore the (unintended) consequence of the Bill is that advertising which is currently regulated will move to unregulated channels, thus defeating the purpose of the Bill,” Grant said.
Meanwhile, the OMA raised further concerns about the length of time it would take to map the locations where alcohol ads would be banned in order for it to comply with the law.
The group said it operated outdoor advertising at thousands of locations, and told the Junior Minister that the mapping process would be “complicated and expensive”.
Grant warned that an exemption from the law of one year from its commencement was not long enough to complete it, and asked for a second amendment to be made to the Bill to extend this.
“We are requesting a 3-year derogation to allow for our members to undertake the necessary exercises and to ensure that mechanisms are in place so that we can be aware of new facilities coming on stream,” she said.
Grant also requested a meeting with Byrne to discuss the situation before the Bill progressed further, but returns on the lobbying register suggest that no meeting took place before it was passed in October.
A spokesperson for Alcohol Action Ireland previously told TheJournal.ie that while advertising restrictions alone would not solve issues around alcohol in Ireland, the legislation helped create an environment to help people make healthier choices.
“Children are continuously exposed to positive, risk-free images of alcohol and its use, which are far removed from the reality of the situation,” the spokesperson said.
“Restricting advertisements for alcohol products to content about the nature of those products will mean that advertisements will be less likely to glamourise alcohol or make it appealing to children.”