Three sections of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 came into effect on 12 November 2019. From that date:
- Alcohol advertising in or on public service vehicles, at public transport stops or stations and within 200 metres of a school, a crèche or a local authority playground is prohibited;
- Alcohol advertising in a cinema is prohibited except around films with an 18 classification or in a licensed premises in a cinema;
- Children’s clothing that promotes alcohol is prohibited.
The question of introducing similar measures in relation to the types of foods proposed by the Deputy is complex. There are issues around defining the precise types of foods which would be included under such a measure. Furthermore, the forms of advertising that are prohibited under the Public Health (Alcohol) Act are only part of the problem in relation to the advertising and marketing of unhealthy food to children. There is a particular difficulty with digital marketing which can be sophisticated, targeted and difficult to regulate.
'A Healthy Weight for Ireland’, the Obesity Policy and Action Plan (OPAP), was launched in September 2016 under the auspices of the Healthy Ireland agenda. The OPAP covers a 10-year period up to 2025 and aims to reverse obesity trends, prevent health complications and reduce the overall burden for individuals, families, the health system, and the wider society and economy. Childhood obesity is a key priority under the Policy, as is reducing the inequalities seen in obesity rates, where children (and adults) from lower socioeconomic groups have higher levels of obesity. The OPAP is based on the best available evidence in the Irish and international literature, and is informed by established international models and frameworks. Evidence-based actions are being progressed under the Plan on a number of fronts, including the introduction of the Sugar Sweetened Drinks Tax and work underway in relation to the reformulation of unhealthy food and drink.
Issues relating to marketing and advertising of unhealthy foods are being progressed under the Obesity Policy and Action Plan, including through the Voluntary Codes of Practice on Non-Broadcast Media and the revision of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s Children’s Commercial Communications Code. The possibility of introducing legislative measures remains under consideration, but any such measures would need to have a strong evidence base in favour of legislation, and to address the difficulties inherent in introducing such measures.
Minister Harris met recently with the Irish Heart Foundation to explore some of the issues relevant to the regulation of marketing and advertising of unhealthy foods to children.
The current legislative priority relevant to these issues is the development of a General Scheme for a Public Health (Calorie Postings and Workplace Wellbeing) Bill. The primary purpose of the proposals in relation to calorie postings is to ensure that calorie information is available at the point of choice for food sold in restaurants, takeaways and other food service businesses. Its objective is to ensure that consumers will be empowered to make an informed choice about the food they consume and will have the information they need to manage their calorie intake. An industry consultation will be initiated shortly and it is intended that the draft General Scheme will be finalised in early 2020.