PUBLIC HEALTH (ALCOHOL) Act explained

There has been much debate and media coverage over a number of years now on the Public Health (Alcohol) Act.  This has eventually been passed into law and there are many items in it that we have been lobbying and campaigning for over a protracted period of time.  What follows is the main provisions of the Act and the likely implementation dates.

Minimum Unit Pricing:

The Act provides for the introduction of minimum unit pricing.  It sets the price at a minimum of €0.10cent per gram of alcohol.  What does this mean in effect?  Once the provision is introduced the minimum price at which a 500ml can of 4.3% beer can be sold will be €1.70.  The minimum price a 700ml bottle of whiskey can be sold at will be €22.09 and pro rata for all other products.

This is now on the Statute books but it remains for the Minister to set a date to commence this piece of legislation.  It has been said all along that it will not be introduced until similar provisions are introduced north of the border to ensure it doesn’t become a magnet for cross border shopping but there are soundings in recent times in the Department of Health that, in light of Brexit, the Minister may look to expedite this provision.  However, the general feeling is that this is unlikely to happen until there is a corresponding piece of legislation in the North.

Segregation:

The Act provides for separation of alcohol in mixed trading (supermarket) outlets.  This includes all such outlets including convenience stores, petrol stations etc.  There will be four options open to operators in this area as follows:

  • Total physical segregation.
  • One point of sale where one storage unit that is not accessible to the public and must be closed when not in use. The alcohol may not be visible.  This is a little bit like how cigarettes are handled at present.
  • A number of adjacent storage units holding alcohol only. The maximum height of such units must be no more than 2.2 metres and from the floor up to 1.5 metres alcohol may not be seen and they must be closed when not in use.
  • There cannot be more than three units adjacent to each other which contain alcohol only. The maximum width of each unit will be 1 metre and the maximum height of 2.2 metres.  They must remain closed when not in use.

 

There is a two-year lead in to allow premises get their house in order and the Minister signed the commencement order for this section in November so the effective date of this particular provision will be November 12th 2020.

 

Labelling:

This became quite contentious in the last days of the Bill going through the Oireachtas primarily because of a late amendment introduced by a Labour Senator in the Seanad regarding cancer warnings.  In the end the Minister accepted this particular amendment.  In essence, in future any product sold in a bottle, can etc. must include the following information on a label on the container:

  • A warning that is intended to inform the public of the danger of alcohol consumption.
  • A warning to inform the public of the danger of alcohol consumption when pregnant.
  • A warning to inform the public of the direct link between alcohol and fatal cancers.
  • The grams of alcohol contained in the container.
  • The calories contained in the container.
  • Directions to a website providing public health information in relation to alcohol consumption.

 

This is not limited to containers only because it is also applicable to what is termed a ‘re-usable container’ i.e. a glass.  This can be covered by having a suitable sign displayed on the premises highlighting all of the above.  What is important here is that the Minister may prescribe the format in which this notice needs to be put in place and this hopefully will take it away from the whims of EHO’s in specific areas.  We believe that this can be addressed in the same way as allergens have been addressed for food in the past and the effect can be minimised.  All of this labelling aspect is subject to approval at EU level.

 

Advertising:

There is a major section covering what is and is not allowed in advertising but little of this is applicable to the pub trade as it specifically states that it does not apply “to a fixture or fitting or on or attached to a premises the subject of an On-Licence”.

 

Sponsorship:

Again, there is a broad section covering sponsorship but it will have little effect on the On-Trade.  It continues to allow pubs to sponsor an event so long as it does not include a reference to either an alcohol product or brand in the advertising.

 

Volume Sales:

There is a section that prohibits the reduction in price for volume purchases.  In other words if a bottle of wine is €8.00 two bottles cannot be sold for €12.00 or €14.00 they must be €16.00.  A similar scenario for beer and spirits also.  This section has also commenced by the Minister with effect from November 2018.

 

There is also a provision that prohibits the use of bonus points, loyalty cards or any similar benefit that would reduce the price of alcohol and as a consequence would be likely to encourage persons to consume alcohol in a harmful way.

 

There is a provision which at this point in time tries to address the concept of happy hours but, as written, is highly confusing.  In the current situation, it is illegal to reduce the price of drink during the course of a day.  Once you open at a certain price you must continue to sell at that price as a minimum during the day.  You can increase but you may not reduce.  The new provision prohibits the sale of alcohol “during a limited period at a price less than that being charged for the alcohol product on the day before the commencement of the limited period”.  That would seem to indicate that you cannot sell it less than the price you sold it the previous day which would cause confusion as to how a limited period could commence in the first place.  Efforts have and are being made to get some clarity on this. We await the Minister to make regulations to get the provisions up and running.

 

Other Provisions:

There is a provision for the need for every licensee to notify the HSE each year on application for renewal of licence.  This can be facilitated in the same way as the notification currently to the Fire Officer.

  • The reason for this is primarily because the EHO’s have the role of ensuring that segregation happens in the Off-Trade and that the notices and labelling as set out above are included. This has not been commenced as yet.
  • There is an outline of the powers and duties of EHO’s. They are pretty all consuming and widespread.  Their remit will tend to be much more on the Off-Trade than the On-Trade in terms of monitoring minimum unit pricing, segregation and compliance with advertising.