Irish Medical Times; 23 May 2023
Businesses will have three-year grace period to adhere to the new laws, which apply from May 22
Ireland has become the first country in the world to legislate for the comprehensive health labelling on alcoholic products. The move follows the signing into law of Section 12 of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act by the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly TD. The law stipulates that alcohol products must display the calorie content and grams of alcohol in the product. Alcoholic products will also carry warnings about consuming alcohol when pregnant and the risks of liver disease and fatal cancers because of alcohol consumption. Labels will also direct users to the HSE website, www.askaboutalcohol.ie, for further information. The new regulations provide three years as a grace period for businesses to prepare for the change, with the law applying from May 22, 2026.
According to Minister Donnelly, the law aims to provide consumers with an informed decision on their alcohol consumption based on understanding alcohol content and health risks.
The National Drug and Alcohol survey findings for the period 2019-2020 showed that 60 per cent of drinkers engaged in monthly heavy episodic drinking, with 24 per cent doing so on a weekly basis. Meanwhile, evidence from the Healthy Ireland survey showed that significant numbers of Irish consumers are unaware of the risk of health harms from alcohol consumption.
Results from these annual surveys include the following: just seven per cent of respondents believed it was safe to consume a small quantity of alcohol when pregnant and nine per cent did not know; 79 per cent were unaware of the risk of breast cancer associated with drinking more than the recommended amounts; 60 per cent were unaware of the bowel cancer risk; 52 per cent were unaware of the increased risk of stomach ulcers; and 49 per cent were unaware of the relationship between alcohol consumption and high blood pressure. Those aged between 15 and 24 were typically less aware of the risk associated with heavy drinking than other age groups.
Minister Donnelly said he was pleased that, with the introduction of comprehensive health labeling of alcohol products, “we can make an informed decision about our own alcohol consumption.” The Minister of State for Public Health, Wellbeing, and the National Drugs Strategy, Hildegarde Naughton TD., added that “this law is designed to ensure all consumers of alcohol have access to clear and concise information about the risks from alcohol.” Naughton also highlighted that ‘the medical evidence is clear that a cancer risk applies even at lower levels of alcohol consumption’.
Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) European Region Report on Alcohol and Cancer in 2020 showed that light to moderate drinking caused about 23,000 new cancer cases in 2017; almost half of these cases were female breast cancers. In 2019, an estimated 4.8 per cent of all deaths in Ireland and 5.2 per cent of disability-adjusted life years were attributable to alcohol, according to Global Burden of Disease data. The average length of hospital stays for patients with alcohol-related diagnoses has also increased from 6.0 days in 1995 to 10.3 days in 2018, which suggests illnesses are becoming more complex and taking longer to treat. The number of hospital bed days used due to these conditions has also increased significantly in the same period, from 56,264 (in 1995) to 177,892 (in 2018).