Ireland's New Alcohol Labelling Law: A Step Forward in Public Health
By Lauri Beekmann,
Executive director, NordAN
May 24, 2023
Connecting the Dots: Ireland’s Alcohol Labelling and the Wider Health Context
In an era where the health implications of consumer choices have come into sharp focus, Ireland's bold new policy for comprehensive health labelling of alcohol products offers a critical blueprint for the world. By confronting the high cost of alcohol-related health issues with such legislative action, Ireland could set a new standard for Europe and the world.
Under the Public Health (Alcohol) (Labelling) Regulations 2023, Irish legislation now mandates various essential health information to be listed on alcohol product labels. This includes calorie content, grams of alcohol, and warnings of associated health risks like liver disease and fatal cancers. While there might be arguments from the industry citing the cost of such extensive labelling changes, the economic and health toll of alcohol-related cancers presents a stark counterpoint.
Indeed, a recent study on "Alcohol-attributable cancer deaths" pointed out the enormous economic cost inflicted by these deaths on European economies due to lost productivity. The figure stands at an alarming €4.58 billion per year, a cost far outweighs the expenses of implementing a comprehensive labelling policy. The financial toll and the human cost of these preventable deaths make a convincing case for countries to follow Ireland's example.
Further evidence comes from research published in Hepatology International led by Liu, Y., Sun, Z., Wang, Q., and others. The study paints a distressing picture of the escalating impact of alcohol on liver disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer. The researchers warned that the number of deaths and disabilities from these diseases could rise if immediate and adequate interventions are not implemented.
In contrast to the concerns about the cost of comprehensive labelling, an Australian study led by Professor Paul Ward at Torrens University highlights how nuanced public health messaging can make a difference, even in socio-economically diverse groups. In other words, such initiatives could be a cost-effective means of raising uniform awareness, which is critical in combating alcohol-related cancers.
With these insights in mind, Ireland's move to mandate comprehensive health labelling for all alcohol products seems both proactive and necessary. It's a step towards providing clear and uniform information to all consumers about the risks associated with alcohol consumption.
While being the first to do so in Europe, Ireland's approach to tackling alcohol-related health issues could serve as a template for countries around the globe. It highlights the need for comprehensive health policies that also effectively communicate the risks of alcohol, thereby reducing the burden of alcohol-related diseases.
As we continue to learn about the devastating health impacts of alcohol, Ireland's transparency and clarity in alcohol labelling is not just a policy change; it's a robust public health initiative that could save lives and significantly reduce the economic burden. However, the question remains whether other nations will follow suit and implement similar measures to contribute to a global effort in reducing alcohol-related harm.