ABFI response to Alcohol Bill

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Government’s Alcohol Bill is a missed opportunity to tackle misuse

ABFI: “Proposals will not address misuse and could put jobs at risk”

Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI) today responded to the publication of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill saying that the content of the Bill will not meaningfully address misuse. ABFI welcomed the Bill putting the drinks industry’s strict advertising codes, which include banning promotional campaigns aimed at children, on a statutory footing, however the industry is concerned that additional advertising restrictions on content are excessive and their effectiveness is unproven.

Director of ABFI, Ross MacMathúna says that while the drinks industry is looking forward to working with Minister Varadkar to deliver meaningful targeted public health initiatives, it is important that they are proven to have an impact on misuse, and will not simply serve to undermine a sector that is of great import to the regional Irish economy and future indigenous export growth.

“While this legislation does include measures that the industry has always supported, the bill has draconian measures with regard to advertising that will instigate a series of unintended consequences, the upshot of which will be an end to investment in innovation in the sector. It will ban the use of pictures of people having a drink in a pub; it will ban any notion of conviviality; it will ban any sense of atmosphere. In other words, this legislation will ban displaying the reason that 80% of tourists claim they travel to Ireland – to have a drink in an Irish pub. We are already subject to some of the most stringent alcohol advertising legislation in Europe. The positive impact that additional measures will have in this space with regard to reducing misuse is questionable.

“There is, however, proof of the negative impact such restrictions will have, and such repercussions will be felt almost immediately: We have seen a similar scenario play out in France when they introduced the Loi Evin. In France, Loi Evin (which was introduced to protect their indigenous wine industry) has led to a reduction in innovation but no reduction in misuse. New product development will be decimated, the market will simply leave this country – taking with it the most creative and well-paid jobs in the sector.

“Furthermore, sports funding will be hugely diminished as this is in essence a sponsorship ban by the back door. Our bid for Rugby World Cup will be wholly undermined.

“There are also omissions from the Bill that – if included – could have had an impact on the target audience. ABFI has sought to work with D/Health to regulate online and digital marketing, a key medium when seeking to regulate advertising to under 18’s and one which is ignored in this legislation. Furthermore, there is no provision for any education measures, or any initiatives that might actually have an impact on affecting behavioural change. The industry has worked for years on ensuring the implementation of responsible serving of alcohol, and again – we so no detail about how such measures can be enhanced and supported in the Bill.

“Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) as proposed will drive shoppers back over the border to do their shopping as there has been no agreement with Northern Ireland on concurrent implementation. If we were to see MUP introduced – not withstanding the current appeal to ECJ - shoppers would once again travel north of the border as there would be at least a 30% differential, even with a bad exchange rate. It’s worth noting that Ireland already has the most expensive alcohol in the EU along with the highest rates excise. Punishing moderate drinkers and hard pressed consumers will not solve the issues associated with alcohol misuse.

“What is being suggested with regard to labelling wholly undermines my members that are trying to get a foothold in the export market.

“The proposals on structural separation and how alcohol is displayed in shops undermines sensibilities of people, and is a true example of nanny-state gone mad.

“The proposed labelling and structural separation changes will have serious implications for Ireland’s indigenous craft beer and craft whiskey businesses that are still trying to get a fair foothold within the market

“The whole population should not be punished because a small minority abuse a product, and the unintended consequences of this bill will result in job losses, and no decrease in alcohol misuse.”