Ireland leads the way as the first country in the EU to introduce comprehensive health labelling of alcohol products
Tackling harms and lack of awareness
The intention here is largely for health, not to disrupt sales of alcohol. Alcohol consumption can have devastating effects on individuals and communities, causing over 200 conditions and diseases, including 7 types of cancer. In the EU, light to moderate drinking levels were responsible for almost 23 000 new cancer cases in 2017, nearly half of which were female breast cancers.
“The medical evidence is clear that a cancer risk applies even at lower levels of alcohol consumption,” said Minister of State for Public Health, Wellbeing and the National Drugs Strategy Hildegarde Naughton.
The decision to introduce mandatory health labelling on alcohol products came in response to alarming statistics surrounding alcohol-related harms in Ireland, in combination with low population awareness among Irish consumers regarding the health risks associated with alcohol consumption.
The Irish Health Survey, conducted in Ireland every year with over 7000 respondents, showed that 7% of respondents believed it was safe to consume a small amount of alcohol while pregnant and almost 80% were unaware of the risks of diseases such as breast cancer. Those aged 15–24 were typically less aware of the risks associated with alcohol consumption than other age groups.
Dr Carina Ferreira-Borges, Regional Adviser for Alcohol, Illicit Drugs and Prison Health at WHO/Europe, explained, “Alcohol harm impacts us all – families, communities and society. Rather than urging people to ‘drink responsibly’, we should be raising public awareness of the range of harms associated with alcohol consumption.”
She added, “WHO has long advocated for comprehensive labelling on alcohol products, recognizing that it can inform consumers about the risks associated with alcohol consumption so that they can make informed choices. We commend Ireland for their progressive approach in prioritizing public health and setting a precedent in the EU with the introduction of mandatory alcohol labelling.”
Pioneers of public health
With the new regulations in place, Ireland will be the first country with comprehensive health labelling on all alcohol products. Ireland will also be the first country in the EU and the second country worldwide (after South Korea) to introduce cancer warnings on alcohol products.
The Irish regulations are groundbreaking in that they provide detailed specifications on the size, colour and other design elements of the health warnings, ensuring visibility of the message. They also mandate the provision of similar health information in licensed premises.
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