On 12 November 2021, Ireland introduced some restrictions on alcohol and sports marketing. In this blog, Dr Sheila Gilheany, CEO of Alcohol Action Ireland, takes a closer look at what these changes mean and how a public health approach to alcohol policy makes a difference.
After a decade of consideration and prolonged parliamentary debate Ireland’s Public Health (Alcohol) Act (PHAA) was enacted in 2018 marking the first time that a public health approach has been taken to alcohol policy in Ireland. The Act contains a suite of measures designed to reduce alcohol use by 20% over a seven-year period. Based on the World Health Organization’s (WHO), ‘best buys’ around controls on price, availability and marketing the legislation was fiercely contended and now faces a similar level of opposition to its implementation.
No ordinary product
First the good news – in stages over the past three years measures have been implemented which prohibit:
- Outdoor alcohol advertising close to schools, in public playgrounds and on public transport plus stops and stations
- Alcohol advertising in a cinema except around over 18 films
- Alcohol promotion on children’s clothing
- Provide for a statutory code on visibility and separation of alcohol products in mixed retail outlets
- The ending of bonus/loyalty rewards accruing to or for alcohol products
These are all positive steps highlighting that alcohol is ‘no ordinary product’. However constant vigilance is still needed if they are to be effective. Recent indications suggest that only around two thirds of shops inspected by Environmental Health Officers were fully compliant with the regulations and there has been widespread advertising of zero alcohol products on public transport which certainly seems to be against the spirt of the law if not the actual detail.
Levelling the playing field
From 12 November 2021 there will also be some restrictions on alcohol and sports marketing with:
- A prohibition on alcohol advertising in or on a sports area during a sporting event; though alcohol branding may be used on players’ clothing
- A complete prohibition on alcohol advertising at events aimed particularly at children, or at events in which most participants, or competitors, are children
- A ban on alcohol sponsorship of events aimed at children, events at which most participants, or competitors, are children
- A ban on alcohol sponsorship of events involving driving or racing motor vehicles
These measures are a far cry from the total ban on alcohol sports sponsorship which was originally proposed for the PHAA but it will certainly be interesting to see their impact on marketing levels.
A recent report Alcohol Marketing in the 2020 Six Nations Championship: a frequency analysis measured the frequency of viewers’ exposure to alcohol promotion during a typical match broadcast. During the broadcast of Ireland’s home match against Wales, viewers were targeted with 754 alcohol promotion messages – one every 15 seconds– saturation marketing by any standard. However, around half of these references were within the sporting area. That would suggest that under the new legislation there should be a considerable reduction in the amount of advertising visible during future matches. It is also of note that the Guinness sponsorship of the Rugby Autumn International Series ended this year. Perhaps an early indication of a change in the sponsorship landscape?
The introduction of another key section of the Act was announced earlier this year – Minimum Unit Pricing will come into effect from 4 January 2022. This followed a sustained period of campaigning by Alcohol Action Ireland working with other public health advocates and that also encouraged the public in contacting their elected representatives calling for its introduction. The experience of MUP in neighbouring Scotland, Wales and Jersey and further afield in Canada, Northern Territory of Australia and former Soviet countries also played an important role in providing both examples and evidence to support this measure. AAI are advocating its introduction in Northern Ireland – a move which will be considered in an upcoming public consultation.
Labelling the problem
But what of the other PHAA measures which include health information labelling, a role for the Health Service Executive in applications for alcohol sales licenses, a statutory code on the content of advertisements and a broadcast watershed on TV and radio for alcohol advertisements? Sadly, the answer is a resounding ‘don’t know’ with no information on a timeline for their introduction forthcoming from the current Minister for Health who has the responsibility to progress this legislation.
To take just one example of the necessity to commence these provisions a recent report from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland on the Effect of the Children’s Communication Code found that the drinks giant, Diageo, is the number four advertiser in Irish children’s lives.
Widening the lens
The EU ‘Beating Cancer’ plan published earlier this year includes plans for health literacy on cancer risks. The proposed action on mandatory labelling of the list of ingredients, nutrition declaration and the ‘inclusion of health warnings’ on the label of alcoholic beverages, which they outline will be advanced ‘before the end of 2023’ certainly supports Ireland’s innovative approach. There is widespread industry opposition to such moves. However, a network of support is growing across Europe with organisations such as Eurocare and the European Public Health Alliance mobilising support and building on the premise of the consumer’s ‘right to know’ – a concept which has considerable traction in the EU.
The passage of the PHAA required determined action from public health advocates. An essential element of that work was the building of an alliance across multiple organizations – the Alcohol Health Alliance Ireland, modelled on the AHA UK was critical to its success. Similarly, its full implementation will need a combination of citizen mobilization, strategic partnerships and unflagging energy.
Written by Dr Sheila Gilheany
This blog was published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alcohol Health Alliance or its members.