I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am pleased to finally be here to introduce the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill to this House. The Bill has been the subject of much discussion and debate and it is clear from the clinical community and many advocacy groups that the Bill is badly needed. I have had excellent engagement with Members of Seanad Éireann, which has passed the Bill in full, and I now look forward to further constructive debate on this landmark public health legislation in this House.
With this Bill we are for the first time endeavouring as an Oireachtas to address alcohol as a public health matter. We have successfully used public health legislation to progress a health agenda in this country in areas such as tobacco for many years. We have never before done so in respect of alcohol and that must change now. This is why I and the Taoiseach in his comments this week have been so clear that this legislation must pass and that it can make a real and meaningful difference to our health service and, most importantly, the health and well-being of our people. In this context, the overall objective of the Bill is to contribute to the reduction of the harmful use of alcohol in our country.
Alcohol consumption in our country is not low. Let us debunk that myth. Ireland is the fourth heaviest-drinking nation in the OECD in terms of the quantity of alcohol consumed. Recently published figures from the Central Statistics Office show that Irish people between the ages of 18 and 24 are top in the EU for binge drinking, that is, drinking six or more drinks on one occasion. Ireland also ranks joint third for binge drinking in a World Health Organization analysis of 194 countries. These are not the statistics Deputies will have heard from the drinks industry in its endeavours to scupper this legislation. Alcohol consumption in our country is not falling either. In 2015 it was at 10.9 l of pure alcohol per capita but figures from the Office of the Revenue Commissioners indicate that our consumption levels increased in 2016 to 11.46 l. Let us hope that is another myth debunked.
The more we drink, the higher our risk of developing life-changing illnesses such as alcoholic liver diseases and alcohol-related cancers. A 2012 analysis found that one in eight breast cancers in Ireland in the years 2001 to 2010, inclusive, was attributable to alcohol and that alcohol was responsible for at least 83 deaths every month in 2011, so this is no small public health issue.
When it comes to our children, the most recent European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs found that seven out of ten 15 to 16 year olds had already drunk alcohol and more than three out of ten had been drunk in the past. The same survey found that a quarter of Irish girls and nearly a fifth of Irish boys reported having been injured or involved in an accident due to alcohol. Research studies show consistently that exposure to alcohol advertising is associated with an increased likelihood that children will start to drink or, if they already do so, will drink in greater quantities. This Bill sets out measures to create an environment in which our children are not exposed to alcohol products or advertising of those products daily. The importance of these measures was recognised by the Seanad such that it agreed an amendment to the Long Title of the Bill. This now includes a specific reference to the restrictions on advertising and sponsorship as they relate to children. I thank the Seanad for that amendment and I think it further improves the Bill.
I think we can all agree that it is our duty to protect the children of our country, but should we leave it to adults to decide on their own drinking? I am clear in my view that we must all take personal responsibility for our own actions. Of that there is no doubt. However, when the decisions of the individual impact negatively and substantially on all of us as a society, including on the Irish public health service and social services, we cannot abdicate our responsibility to protect our citizens and public services. The cost of time spent in hospital for alcohol-related conditions in 2012 was €1.5 billion, or the equivalent of €1 for every €10 spent on public health. I know Deputy Kelleher and I could think of many ways in which we could better spend that money in the delivery of public health services. If we can reduce alcohol consumption, we can reduce these costs, and many of us would have no difficulty finding alternative uses for any moneys saved in that regard. In 2013, alcohol-related discharges accounted for more than 160,000 bed days in public hospitals, that is, almost 3.6% of all bed days in the Irish health service being used for problems that the measures in this Bill are designed to address and mitigate. If we as legislators can act to prevent these beds from being needed because of the harmful use of alcohol, I believe we should do so. One of the primary objectives of this Bill is to lower our consumption of alcohol in order that the human and financial costs of misuse are reduced. The Bill aims to reduce consumption per capita to 9.1 l of pure alcohol by 2020, to delay the initiation of alcohol consumption by children and young people and to reduce the harms caused by the misuse of alcohol. Let us be honest with one another: the Bill will not change our culture overnight. However, it will raise awareness among all of us about the risks associated with alcohol and will provide for practical changes to protect our children and all our citizens, which can only be a good thing.
I will now take the House through the Bill to outline the content of each section. The Bill is divided into three parts. Part 1 is titled "Preliminary and General" and contains sections 1 to 10, inclusive. Section 1 sets out the Short Title of the Bill and the commencement times of the sections after enactment. There are different lead-in times for different sections. The longest Iead-in time is three years, which applies to the labelling requirements, advertising at events and sponsorship and elements of the advertising requirements. These long lead-in times are to facilitate those businesses which may have to make changes to comply with the new requirements. We are therefore providing significant time for practical changes to be made, which is an important recognition. Section 2 deals with the interpretation and defines some of the terms used in the Bill. Section 3 provides that the Bill will apply to a club registered under the Registration of Clubs Acts 1904 to 2008. Section 4 requires that an applicant for a liquor licence must give one month's written notice in advance to the HSE. The purpose of this provision is to ensure that the HSE has the right to appear and give evidence at a hearing for the granting or renewal of a licence. Section 5 empowers the Minister for Health of the day to make regulations as provided for under the Act. Section 6 is a standard prevision dealing with expenses. Section 7 is a standard provision dealing with the service of documents under the Act.
Section 8 sets out the offences under the legislation. A person who commits an offence under the Act will be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding €5,000 or imprisonment for a term of up to six months or both. A person convicted on indictment for certain offences will be liable to a fine not exceeding €100,000 or imprisonment for a term of up to two years or both. For other offences, a person convicted on indictment will be liable to a fine not exceeding €250,000 or a term of imprisonment of up to three years or both. In proceedings under the Act, it is a defence if a person can show he or she made all reasonable efforts to ensure compliance with the relevant provision, which is an important point.
Section 9 provides that where a person is sold an alcohol product from somewhere outside the State but that product is despatched within the State, the sale is deemed to have taken place within the State and will therefore be subject to the provisions of the Act. Section 10 repeals sections 20 and 23 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003 and sections 9 and 16 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008. Three of those sections deal with promotions in respect of alcohol products, and section 9 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 deals with the structural separation of alcohol products in mixed retail outlets. These sections will be replaced by sections 22 and 23 of this Bill.
Part 2 of the Bill is titled "Alcohol Products" and contains sections 11 to 23, inclusive. Section 11 provides for minimum unit pricing. The minimum unit price is set at 10 cent per gram of alcohol. It will be an offence to sell, or advertise for retail sale, alcohol at a price below this set minimum price. The minimum unit price can be increased by ministerial order. The first order cannot be made until three years after commencement of the section, and subsequent orders can only be made every 18 months. The Minister of the day must take into account the available expert research when making an order. Alcohol products sold in airport duty-free shops are exempt from minimum unit pricing for passengers leaving the State. Minimum unit pricing will target cheaper alcohol relative to its strength because the price is determined by the amount of pure alcohol in the drink. It sets a "floor price" beneath which alcohol cannot legally be sold and targets products that are very cheap relative to their strength. At a minimum unit price of 10 cent per gram of alcohol, a 500 ml can of Guinness will have a minimum price of €1.66, a 440 ml can of Tesco lager will have a minimum price of €1.32, a 750 ml bottle of Jacob's Creek Classic Chardonnay will have a minimum price of €7.52, a 700 ml bottle of Jameson whiskey will have a minimum price of €22.09 and a 500 ml can of Dutch Gold will have a minimum price of €1.58. The only products in the list I have read out that would see an increase in their price under minimum unit pricing are Tesco lager and Dutch Gold. Again, the idea that the price of everyone's drink will increase is a convenient myth put out there by the drinks industry and is not borne out by fact. For on-license premises using pub measures, the proposed minimum unit price of 10 cent per gram of alcohol will mean a pint of Heineken will have a minimum price of €2.25, a pint of Budweiser will have a minimum price of €1.80, a pint of Bulmers cider will have a minimum price of €2.02 and a measure of Jameson whiskey will have a minimum price of €1.12.
As is clear from these examples, the application of a minimum unit price of 10 cent per gram of alcohol will not have an impact on prices in pubs, clubs or restaurants. This is another important myth debunked.
Section 12 provides for the health labelling of alcohol products and the provision of health information on alcohol products more generally. It aims to ensure that consumers are provided with health information on alcohol products whether they are purchased in a shop, in a pub or through a website. The section provides that a label on alcohol products must contain certain health and product information. The same information must also be provided on a website through which alcohol products are sold and on a document required to be provided with alcohol products contained in reusable containers such as kegs or casks.
The information to be provided to the consumer in these circumstances comprises three health warnings intended to inform the public of the risks associated with alcohol, the quantity of grams of alcohol in the product, the energy value or calorie content of the product, and details of an alcohol public health website to be established and maintained by the health service. The HSE website, askaboutalcohol.ie, has already been established. It contains information to help us assess our own level of drinking, explains the health risks of alcohol and offers support and guidance to anyone who wants to cut back on their drinking. It will assist all of us to manage our own health better in respect of alcohol consumption.
Section 12 also provides that licensed premises must display notices in their premises that include the three health warnings intended to inform the public of the risks associated with alcohol, details of the alcohol public health website established by the HSE and confirmation that a document is available on request that sets out the grams of alcohol and the calorie content of each alcohol product sold in a container without a label, for example, draught beer or a glass of wine sold in an on-license premises.
The Minister for Health of the day can make regulations prescribing the information to be provided to the consumer and the manner of its display, for example, the size and colour of the text of the warnings on labels. Any available expert research on the effectiveness of including such information must be taken into account in making the regulations. The Department commissioned research to inform the manner and form of the health labelling provisions in order to ensure their effectiveness. These provisions will come into operation three years after the commencement of the section and will not apply to alcohol products that are already on the market prior to this section coming into operation.
Sections 13 to 20 provide for restrictions and prohibitions on the advertising and marketing of alcohol products. One of the major aims of these provisions is to protect children from continuous exposure to alcohol advertising. Section 13 relates to the content of advertisements. It provides that some of the information that is required on the labels of alcohol products must also be included in advertisements for alcohol products. Specifically, advertisements for alcohol products must incorporate the three health warnings intended to inform the public of the risks associated with alcohol and details of the alcohol public health website established by the HSE. The Minister of the day can make regulations prescribing the form of the warnings in advertisements and the prominence and duration of the warnings in a broadcast advertisement.
Section 13 also provides that the content of advertisements for alcohol products is restricted to any or all of the following: an image or reference to an alcohol product or alcohol products, the country and region of origin of the product, the method of production of the product, the premises where the alcohol product was manufactured, information on whether the products is intended to be diluted and an image of or reference to a non-alcoholic beverage to dilute the product, the price of the product, a brand name, trademark or emblem, a corporate name and corporate emblem, a description of the flavour, colour and smell, the name and address of the manufacturer, the alcoholic strength by volume of the product, the quantity of alcohol in grams in the product and the energy value of the product.
In addition, the section provides that alcohol products and alcohol use cannot be portrayed in an advertisement for any other product or service. The exceptions are advertisements for a licensed premises and an advertisement or public service message from the Road Safety Authority or the HSE.
Section 14 prohibits advertisements for alcohol products in certain places. These are in a local authority park or open space, in or on a public service vehicle, for example a bus or taxi, in or on a tram or train, in or at a train station or bus station, at bus or tram stops, in or at a school, including its grounds or within 200 m of the perimeter of its grounds, a crèche or within 200 m of its perimeter, or at a local authority playground or within 200 m of its perimeter.
For the purposes of this section, advertising is defined as the display of posters, billboards, hoardings, placards or other signage. It does not include an advertisement that is attached to a licensed premises or a premises where alcohol products are manufactured or sold by wholesale. Alcohol-related merchandise that is distributed free of charge in a licensed premises or in a premises where alcohol products are manufactured or sold by wholesale is also excluded from the definition of advertising in this section. In addition, and based on advice from the Office of the Attorney General, an alcohol delivery van or truck which is in any of these locations during the ordinary course of its business would not fall under the definition of advertising in this section.
Section 15 relates to advertising during events. It provides that advertisements for alcohol products are prohibited in or on a sports area while a sports event is taking place. A sports area is defined as an indoor or outdoor area on which competitors engage in the sporting event such as a football pitch, running track or swimming pool. Alcohol advertisements are not prohibited around the sports area so, for example, advertising on hoardings around a pitch or track during an event will still be allowed. The advertising of alcohol products is also prohibited at an event aimed particularly at children or at an event where the majority of those taking part are children.
Section 16 prohibits the sponsorship of an event where the majority of those taking part are children, an event aimed particularly at children or an event that involves driving or racing cars or bikes. Sponsorship is defined for the purposes of this section as any form of contribution to an event with the aim or effect of promoting an alcohol product, an alcohol brand or alcohol consumption. Under section 16, the holder of a licence can sponsor an event as long as that sponsorship does not include the promotion of an alcohol product or brand. A pub or other licensed premises can promote its business or premises through sponsorship but it cannot promote a particular alcohol product or brand.
Section 17 provides that children’s clothing, including footwear, which is branded with an alcohol product or which promotes alcohol consumption, cannot be manufactured for sale in the State, sold in the State or imported for sale in the State. Children’s clothing is defined as clothing which is intended to be worn by a child, for example, clothing with a child's age on the label. It is not an offence under the legislation for a parent to purchase such clothing or for a child to wear it. This section will not apply to children’s clothing placed on the market up to a year after the section comes into operation.
Section 18 provides for restrictions on alcohol advertising in publications. The advertising space permitted for advertising alcohol products in a publication is restricted to a maximum of 20% of the advertising space in the publication. A publication cannot be imported for sale in the State if it breaches the provisions relating to advertising in publications. This section does not apply to publications that are intended for sale or distribution outside the State, that are directed solely at those in the business of selling or distributing alcohol products or specialist publications which are solely about alcohol products. Publications by or on behalf of specialist off-licences which promote the sale of products in that premises are exempted from some of the requirements also.
Section 19 introduces a broadcast watershed for alcohol advertisements. Alcohol advertisements are prohibited on television between the hours of 3 a.m. and 9 p.m. This means that advertisements on television will be seen only after 9 p.m. and until 3 a.m. Alcohol advertisements are prohibited on radio between the hours of 3 p.m. to the following 10 a.m. on weekdays. This means that on weekdays advertisements will he heard on radio only after 10 a.m. and until 3 p.m. Alcohol advertisements can air on radio at any time on weekends. These timings were agreed in conjunction with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and relate to the times when children primarily watch television and listen to radio.
Section 20 restricts advertisements for alcohol products in cinemas to the intervals around films with an age 18 classification and to a licensed premises in a cinema.
Section 21 provides that within three years of its commencement, the advertising and marketing sections of the Bill must be reviewed.
Section 22 relates to the separation and reduced visibility of alcohol products in mixed retail outlets. It is well known that during the passage of the Bill through the Seanad we had significant discussion and engagement on this and a number of measures have been agreed that will restrict the visibility of alcohol, with three options available to retailers which I will take as read in my script in the interest of time. Airport shops are also exempted from some of the requirements and instead those set out in subsection (5) of this section apply. In airport shops, alcohol products sold for consumption off the premises must be displayed in storage units that contain only alcohol products.
Section 23 empowers the Minister for Health of the day to make regulations to prohibit the following types of promotions: selling an alcohol product at a reduced price or free of charge on the purchase of another alcohol product or another product or service, for example, buy-one-get-one-free offers; selling an alcohol product for a limited period at a price less than it was the day before, for example happy hours or happy days; an event or activity, or the sale at a reduced price or free of charge of alcohol products likely to encourage the consumption of alcohol in a harmful way.
The final part of the Bill is Part 3, which is titled "Enforcement and Compliance" and contains sections 24 to 31. These outline the various enforcement and compliance provisions in the Bill, which I look forward to having an opportunity to discuss on Committee Stage.
These are truths about alcohol in Ireland that it is time we must accept. Alcohol can and does cause harm to health and significant costs to the Exchequer. Alcohol consumption remains high. The harms of alcohol make it unlike other grocery products and it is time to denormalise it in this regard.
Consumers should be able to make informed choices about their drinking. Our children's and young people’s relationship with alcohol needs to be addressed. This Bill is designed to act upon those truths. We have the opportunity to take some important steps in order to create a healthier society for our children, our vulnerable people and our citizens in general. This legislation has been talked about for years. It is time we, as legislators, accept our responsibilities to debate the Bill in an expeditious but thorough manner and pass it into law so that the benefits for our children, our young people and future generations can be felt and the benefits for our health service can be put in place. Industry has lobbied and lobbied in a hope to delay or stall this process. I am absolutely determined that this Bill will be passed into law.