IPH welcomes the opportunity to comment on Heads of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. International evidence supports these regulatory measures in addressing alcohol consumption and related harm. The World Health Organization has strongly endorsed the use of such public health legislation to regulate the availability of alcohol as a means to reduce alcohol-related harm (WHO, 2010).
This Bill will have important implications in terms of addressing a wide range of alcohol-related harms and improving population health.
Alcohol-related harm has a major impact on population health and health inequalities in Ireland. Current levels of harmful drinking have a significant impact on health and social services in terms of acute physical and mental health issues and injury. Patterns of consumption contribute significantly to our evolving epidemics of obesity, chronic disease and multi-morbidity.
The cost of alcohol-related harm is €3.7bn per annum. Any delays in introduction of the Bill will incur further cost to population health and social wellbeing as well as the Exchequer. IPH welcomes the Heads of Bill. We consider the Bill a critical element of the implementation of the recommendations of the Steering Group Report on a National Substance Misuse Strategy.
Members of the committee should be assured that the evidence has consistently shown that broad regulatory measures addressing alcohol availability are effective in reducing alcohol-related harm. A focus on health education and awareness campaigns, though important, is insufficient to effect meaningful change and a comprehensive regulatory framework is also required.
IPH considers that while all Heads of Bill are important, the introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP) is critical in terms of reducing the stark inequalities in alcohol-related harm seen in this country and in relieving the excess burden of that harm shouldered by the most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.
There is significant commitment in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to work cooperatively and consider carefully progression towards the introduction of MUP. IPH chairs the North South Alcohol Advisory Group, and one of the groups outputs – a briefing paper on alcohol availability – supports many elements of the Heads of Bill. Members should be assured that both jurisdictions are progressing with due concern for cross-border issues, based on jointly commissioning research.
While we acknowledge the importance of this Bill, IPH notes that certain provisions in the Bill fall short of the steering group’s initial recommendations. There is scope for greater clarity on specific details relating to labelling requirements, regulation of controls on advertising and marketing and the timeframe for progress on structural separation.