As someone who has spent much of the last decade of my professional time advocating for these changes both in, and outside of government, I cannot really express how pleased I am with this major development by Ireland’s Minister for Health. By commencing these regulations another measure within the historic Public Health Alcohol Act of 2018 becomes operational.
On a fleeting consideration, some may think that these warnings on-product will be minor, but I would argue that they are at the vanguard of a profound rethink of how society will view alcohol in the times ahead. Central to that view is a recognition that people have a right to know a basic understanding of the risk from alcohol use, and that without the presentation of a clear and unambiguous expression of fact, economic actors or governments cannot demand that people act responsibly. Choices have to be informed and facts matter.
The public health outcomes arising from this action may not be evident immediately. However, for the first time ever, Irish consumers will now be informed of the inherent risk, not just on-product and at a time of use, but also at the point of purchase in every licensed premises, whether in an on- or off-trade setting. This profound change in public communication, like with health warnings on cigarettes and tobacco, will herald a generational shift in attitudes and behaviours.
We are, as it were: ‘crossing the Rubicon’, and for the alcohol industry – who so vociferously opposed Ireland’s statutory actions to reduce alcohol use, and related harm, for more than a decade, and most recently the EU Commission’s ‘Beating Cancer’ proposals – there can be no going back to fabricated denials of the known risk that have helped sustain their market revenues. A line has been drawn.
One further measure from the 2018 legislative policy framework: Content of Advertisement codifying what is permitted in alcohol advertising, but which has yet to be commencement, ensures that these health warnings are also placed on all alcohol advertising.
For those of us in public health advocacy this major development may mark a new departure for strategic action. Future advances in reducing population alcohol use can be achieved, whether by curbing alcohol promotion, advancing pricing policies or restricting availability – identified as ‘best buys’ by the WHO – but only if a strategic vision that embraces multi-sectoral opinion is given a coherent and credible voice that is focused and pragmatic, resilient in defending its objective, and tenacious in countering the opposition.
Eunan McKinney is the former ministerial advisor (2012-16) and Advocacy & Communication lead at Alcohol Action Ireland (2017-22). Today he acts as a Senior Adviser on Public policy development | Advocacy | Communications planning, and is a full member of the WHO Europe Technical Advisory Group on Alcohol Labelling.
All IAS Blogposts are 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 Institute of Alcohol Studies.