I am pleased to introduce the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill to the House. The Bill is the most far-reaching proposed by any Government, with alcohol being addressed for the first time as a public health measure. Ireland has a serious problem - we drink too much alcohol. The majority of people who drink do so in a harmful way. Our alcohol consumption is in the top five among the European Union's 28 member states. The Healthy Ireland survey reported that 76% of the Irish population drank alcohol, with 53% of drinkers doing so at least weekly.
Patterns of drinking, especially drinking to the point of intoxication, play an important role in causing alcohol-related harm. In Ireland when we drink, we tend to binge drink.
The Healthy Ireland survey indicates that drinking to excess on a regular basis is commonplace throughout the population, with almost four in ten drinkers, or 39%, binge drinking on a typical drinking occasion and a quarter of them doing so at least once a week. This pattern of drinking is causing significant harm to individuals, their families and society. Alcohol was responsible for at least 83 deaths every month in 2011, is a contributory factor in half of all suicides and in deliberate self-harm and is associated with a risk of developing health problems such as alcohol dependence, liver cirrhosis and cancer, as well as injuries.
The Government is committed to tackling the alcohol problem in Ireland and the widespread harm and pain it causes. The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill is one of a suite of measures recommended by the steering group report on a national substance misuse strategy in 2012. On 8 December last, the Government approved the publication of the Bill. It aims to reduce alcohol consumption to 9.1 litres of pure alcohol per annum per person by 2020 and to reduce the harms associated with alcohol. The Bill includes five main provisions: minimum unit pricing; health labelling of alcohol products; regulation of advertising and sponsorship of alcohol; structural separation of alcohol products in mixed trading outlets; and regulation of the sale and supply of alcohol in certain circumstances.
I will outline the Bill section by section to clarify its provisions. The Bill is divided into three parts. The first part, preliminary and general provisions, covers sections 1 to 9, inclusive. Section 1 makes standard provisions setting out the Short Title of the Bill and arrangements for its commencement. The Bill can be commenced on a phased basis. Section 2 deals with the interpretation of the Bill. It defines the meaning of some of the terms used for the purposes of the Bill, including "advertising", "container" and "sell". Section 3 outlines that the Bill will apply to clubs registered under the Registration of Clubs Acts 1904 to 2008. Section 4 deals with regulations, allowing the Minister for Health to make regulations to bring the legislation into operation. Section 5 is a standard provision dealing with expenses. Section 6 is a standard provision dealing with the service of documents.
Section 7 sets out the offences under the legislation. A person who commits an offence under the legislation will be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding €5,000 - a class A fine - or imprisonment for a term of up to six months or both, and on conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €100,000 or €250,000 or imprisonment for a term of up to two or three years or both. A continuing fine of up to €2,000 per day is provided for where a person is convicted of specific offences and the contravention continues. Contraventions including the non-display of health information in licensed premises and online and the sale of children's clothing to which certain restrictions apply will be summary offences. The Bill provides for a defence if a person can show that he or she made all reasonable efforts to comply with the legislation. A person convicted of an offence may also be ordered to cover the prosecution costs and expenses. Summary proceedings under the Bill may be brought and prosecuted by the Health Service Executive, HSE. The section also sets out provisions relating to offences committed by bodies corporate and their directors, managers or officers.
Section 8 provides for the remote sale of alcohol products. This provision will ensure that if a person is sold an alcohol product from somewhere outside the Republic of Ireland that is dispatched from inside the Republic, the legislation governing the sale of alcohol products within the Republic will apply. Section 9 repeals sections 20 and 23 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003 and sections 9 and 16 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008.
Part 2 of the Bill which deals with alcohol products covers sections 10 to 21. Section 10 deals with minimum unit pricing, MUP. The price is set at 10 cent per gram of alcohol. It will be an offence to sell or advertise alcohol for retail sale at a price below this set minimum price. The MUP can be increased by ministerial order three years after commencement and every 18 months thereafter following a review. Alcohol products sold in duty free shops in airports are exempt from MUP. When introduced, the minimum price for a can of beer with 5% alcohol by volume, ABV, will be €1.97, the minimum price for a bottle of wine with 12.5% ABV will be €7.40, and the minimum price of a bottle of whiskey with 40% ABV will be €22.09.
Section 11 outlines the provisions for the labelling of alcohol products and notices in licensed premises. The aim is to provide information for consumers on alcohol products, that is, health and pregnancy warnings, quantities of alcohol in grams, energy values, and details of an alcohol public health website to be established by the HSE. The provisions aim to ensure consumers are provided with health information on alcohol products, regardless of the manner of purchase, be it in a shop, in a pub or online. Labels on alcohol products, websites where alcohol is sold online and documents with kegs or casks must contain the following information: health and pregnancy warnings, the quantity of alcohol in grams, the energy value, and details of an alcohol public health website to be provided by the HSE. On and off-licences must prominently display notices which include health and pregnancy warnings, details of an alcohol public health website to be provided by the HSE and confirmation that a document is available on request for review which sets out the amount of alcohol and energy value for every poured or decanted alcohol product such as draught beer or a glass of wine or spirits. The Minister for Health can make regulations prescribing the information to be provided for the customer and the manner of its display such as the form of the health warnings and where notices are to be displayed in licensed premises. My Department has commissioned research to inform the health labelling and ensure the clarity and efficacy of the message. These provisions will come into operation three years after the commencement of the section. The labelling provisions will not apply to alcohol products that are on the market prior to the coming into operation of the section.
Sections 12 to 18, inclusive, provide for restrictions and prohibitions on the advertising and marketing of alcohol products. The aim is to protect children from over-exposure to alcohol advertising. A targeted consultation will take place shortly to inform the transitional periods for these provisions. Section 12 relates to the content of advertisements, including broadcast advertisements. The Bill provides that advertisements for alcohol products must incorporate health and pregnancy warnings and details of an alcohol public health website to be established by the HSE. Additionally, the alcohol advertisements can only contain any or all of the following: an image or reference to an alcohol product or alcohol products; the country and region of origin; the method of production; where the alcohol product was manufactured; information on whether the alcohol product is intended to be diluted with a non-alcoholic beverage, with an image of or reference to the non-alcoholic beverage; the price; a brand name, trade mark or emblem; a corporate name and corporate emblem; the name and address of the manufacturer; the ABV; quantity of alcohol in grams; and energy value. The Minister is empowered to make regulations prescribing, inter alia, the form of the warning and the prominence and duration of the warning in a broadcast advertisement. Alcohol products and alcohol use cannot be portrayed in an advertisement for any other product or service.
Section 13 prohibits advertisements for alcohol products in certain places. Advertisements for alcohol are prohibited in or at local authority parks or open spaces, public service vehicles such as buses and taxis, trams or trains, trains or bus stations, bus stops, railway stops, schools, early years services such as crèches and local authority playgrounds. The advertising of alcohol products is also prohibited within 200 m of the perimeter of a school, including its grounds, early years services and local authority playgrounds. Licensed premises, premises where alcohol is produced or sold and alcohol company vehicles are exempt from this provision.
Section 14 provides that advertisements for alcohol products are prohibited in or on sports areas when a sports event is taking place, at events aimed particularly at children or at events where the majority of individuals taking part are children. The Bill provides that individuals can wear alcohol-branded clothing in a sports area during a sports event. The sports area is defined as the playing area, for example, a playing pitch, swimming pool or athletics track.
Section 15 provides that an alcohol company cannot sponsor an event where the majority of individuals taking part are children, an event aimed particularly at children or an event that involves driving or racing cars or bicycles. However, licensed premises such as pubs and mixed-trade retailers can sponsor an event provided alcohol products or brands are not advertised or promoted therein.
Section 16 provides that children's clothing, including footwear, that is branded with an alcohol product or promotes alcohol consumption cannot be manufactured, sold or imported for sale in the State. Children's clothing placed on the market up to a year after the commencement of this provision is exempt from the provision.
Section 17 outlines restrictions on alcohol advertising in publications with regard to the volume and type of publication, including foreign publications. The advertising space permitted for alcohol products in publications is restricted to 20%. Advertisements for alcohol products are not permitted in publications aimed particularly at children, in publications or pages of a publication whose readership by children is likely to exceed 20%, or on the front or back cover or any wrapper, envelope or covering of a publication. There is an exemption for publications that are intended for sale and distribution outside the State and for alcohol trade publications that are not aimed at the general public. Publications published by or on behalf of specialist off-licences are exempted from some of these restrictions.
Section 18 restricts advertisements for alcohol products in cinemas to films with an age 18 years classification and licensed premises.
Section 19 provides that the advertising provisions must be reviewed within three years of commencement. Section 20 provides for restrictions on the display and advertisement of alcohol products in mixed-trade retail outlets. It sets out that mixed-trade retailers can only display and advertise alcohol products in either a separate area of the shop or in closed storage units. In addition, to these two options, alcohol products can also be held behind the counter in a closed storage unit, as is often currently done for security reasons.
The alcohol display area must be separated from the rest of the premises by a barrier. Alcohol products and advertisements for alcohol products should not be easily visible from outside the area and the public should not have to pass through the alcohol area in order to access or buy other products. In addition, the alcohol display area can only display alcohol products. Products related with alcohol such as glasses, corkscrews, mixers and alcohol-related products which must also be available to buy elsewhere in the shop. If the option chosen is that of closed storage units, these can only contain alcohol products and must be located adjacent to each other. Alcohol products and advertisements for alcohol products may not be visible from the storage units when closed and the storage units must remain closed when not in use. Specialist off-licences and airports are exempt from these provisions. These provisions will come into effect one year after the commencement of the section.
Section 21 empowers the Minister for Health to make regulations to prohibit or restrict a person from providing, by sale or supply, 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; providing, by sale or supply, alcohol products at a reduced price for a period equal to or less than three days - I refer here to happy hours, happy days or messy Mondays; and doing or permitting anything that is intended or likely to encourage the people present to drink alcohol harmfully. This includes anything done to promote a business or an event or activity taking place somewhere other than an occupied private residence; selling or causing to be sold alcohol at a reduced price or free of charge to a particular class of person, for example, students night offers; and advertising or causing to be advertised the sale, supply or consumption of alcohol products in the manner outlined.
The award directly or indirectly of bonus points, loyalty card points or similar on the purchase of alcohol products is also prohibited, as is the use of any points to obtain alcohol products or any other product or service at a reduced price or free of charge. These provisions do not apply to alcohol products sold by wholesale.
Part 3 of the Bill provides for enforcement and compliance and covers sections 22 to 29, inclusive. Section 22 provides for the appointment of officers by the HSE and for the circumstances in which such appointments may cease. Authorised officers will be required to produce the warrant of appointment if so requested when exercising any power conferred on him or her under the Bill. Section 23 sets out the powers of authorised officers in enforcing the legislation. Section 24 sets out the arrangements for sampling of alcohol products, substances or articles by authorised officers. Section 25 provides for the Minister for Health to designate, by notice in writing in Iris Oifigiúil, a laboratory and an analyst for the purposes of analysis of samples under the Bill. Section 26 sets out the evidence required in proceedings for an offence and provides for the Minister for Health to prescribe in regulations the form of a certificate of analysis. Section 27 provides that an authorised officer of the HSE who has reasonable grounds for believing that a person is committing, or has committed, an offence under certain labelling and merchandising provisions, may serve a fixed payment notice in the prescribed form on that person. Section 28 makes provision for the use of compliance notices to promote higher levels of compliance with the legislation. Section 29 provides that the HSE may publish an alcohol non-compliance list of the names and addresses of persons where a fine or other penalty has been imposed by a court.
As Members have heard, this is a very comprehensive Bill dealing with a number of different aspects of alcohol consumption, from pricing to advertisement to labelling. I am confident that this multifaceted approach is both necessary and likely to bring significant improvement to our consumption levels and patterns. I, therefore, commend the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 to the House.