The Irish government has told alcoholic beverage makers to start posting detailed health warnings on their products by 2026. The move will give Ireland the most comprehensive alcohol warning labels in the world.
The ages-old connection between booze and the notion of ‘harmless good
times’ will certainly come under close scrutiny – and may crumble
under a coming onslaught of ‘comprehensive labelling’
required by a new law just passed in Ireland.
Farewell to ‘Miller Time’?
Remember, years ago, before governments and medical authorities started coming down hard on alcohol as a health threat? I always think of the Guinness beer commercials that touted the product as ‘not just beer’: “It’s food!” Most booze types and brands didn’t go that far with claims about the healthfulness and safety of their products. However, the general tendency was to market alcohol as a positive, enjoyable substance that brought people together. The sidebar message was it ‘made good times better’.
Now, times have changed dramatically. The alcohol marketers are in a push-pull sort of relationship with medical and public safety authorities . The booze pushers are still saying alcohol equates with fun, good times and pleasant feelings. But they’re also toeing a line that makes it mandatory to tag all their lifestyle messages with an admonition to ‘drink responsibly’. I guess that makes them fell like they’ve done their duty to advertise responsibly.
In some jurisdictions, booze makers are required to post messages on their labels reminding drinkers that alcohol is associated with cancers, birth defects, live disease and other ailments. But none requires comprehensive labelling such as is mandated for tobacco packaging almost everywhere these days…
‘Everyone has a right to be told about the risks’
Irish Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly says: “This law is designed to give all of us as consumers a better understanding of the alcohol content and health risks associated with consuming alcohol. With that information, we can make an informed decision about our own alcohol consumption.”
Seems he’s right about folks needing to be more aware of the risks of drinking.
The Healthy Ireland survey, carried out annually and based on a nationally representative sample of over 7,000 respondents, shows that significant numbers of Irish consumers are unaware of the health risks from alcohol consumption:
- asked whether it is safe to consume a small amount of alcohol while pregnant, 7 percent of respondents believed it to be safe and 9 percent did not know
- 79 percent were unaware of the risk of breast cancer associated with drinking more than recommended amounts and 60 percent were unaware of the bowel cancer risk
- 52 percent were unaware of the increased risk of stomach ulcers and 49 percent were unaware of a relationship between alcohol consumption and high blood pressure
- those aged between 15 and 24 were typically less aware of the risk associated with heavy drinking than other age groups.
Healthcare statistics paint a dark picture
Irish healthcare statistics revel an even more serious situation:
- Light to moderate drinking levels caused almost 23,000 new cancer cases in 2017; almost half of these were female breast cancers. [Report on Alcohol and cancer in the WHO European Region (2020)]
- 60% of drinkers engaged in monthly heavy episodic drinking with 24% doing so on a weekly basis. [The National Drug and Alcohol survey findings for the period 2019-2020]
- In 2019, an estimated 4.8% of all deaths here and 5.2% of disability adjusted life years were attributable to alcohol according to Global Burden of Disease data.
- The average length of hospital stays for patients with alcohol-related diagnoses increased from 6.0 days in 1995 to 10.3 days in 2018, which suggests that illnesses are becoming more complex and taking longer to treat.
- The number of hospital bed days used due to these conditions has also significantly increased in the same period, from 56,264 (in 1995) to 177,892 (in 2018).
What the Bill mandates
According to the official Irish Department of Health announcement:
Section 12 and the Labelling Regulations together introduce comprehensive health labelling of alcohol products sold in Ireland and provide that similar health information will be available for customers in licensed premises.
The law provides that the labels of alcohol products will state the calorie content and grams of alcohol in the product. They will warn about the risk of consuming alcohol when pregnant and will also warn of the risk of liver disease and fatal cancers from alcohol consumption.
The labels will direct the consumer to the HSE website, www.askaboutalcohol.ie, for further information.
A glimpse of the future?
Observers are keeping a close watch on the progress of the new Irish alcohol labelling initiative. If the future follows the pattern established in the past, and the Irish labelling initiative is successful, other developed countries will probably follow the that lead and strengthen their own alcohol labelling rules.
~ Maggie J.