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What’s in the Bottle: Ireland Leads the Way as the First Country in the Eu to Introduce Comprehensive Health Labelling of Alcohol Products

Health information on alcohol products allows consumers to make informed choices about the risks of consuming alcohol. Ireland is the first country in the European Union (EU) to ensure that, from 2026, all alcohol products will have comprehensive labelling about health risks from consumption, including warnings about the risks of developing cancers. 

The Public Health (Alcohol) (Labelling) Regulations 2023 and remaining provisions of Section 12 of Ireland’s Public Health (Alcohol) Act were officially signed by Minister of Health Stephen Donnelly on 22 May 2023. Under the regulations, alcohol product labels in Ireland will include important information, such as calorie content and grams of alcohol. These labels will also prominently display warnings about the risks associated with alcohol consumption during pregnancy, as well as the dangers of liver disease and cancers caused by alcohol.

Tackling harms and lack of awareness 

Alcohol consumption can have devastating effects on individuals and communities, causing over 200 conditions and diseases, including 7 types of cancer. In the EU, light to moderate drinking levels were responsible for almost 23 000 new cancer cases in 2017, nearly half of which were female breast cancers. 

“The medical evidence is clear that a cancer risk applies even at lower levels of alcohol consumption,” said Minister of State for Public Health, Wellbeing and the National Drugs Strategy Hildegarde Naughton. 

The decision to introduce mandatory health labelling on alcohol products came in response to alarming statistics surrounding alcohol-related harms in Ireland, in combination with low population awareness among Irish consumers regarding the health risks associated with alcohol consumption. 

The Irish Health Survey, conducted in Ireland every year with over 7000 respondents, showed that 7% of respondents believed it was safe to consume a small amount of alcohol while pregnant and almost 80% were unaware of the risks of diseases such as breast cancer. Those aged 15–24 were typically less aware of the risks associated with alcohol consumption than other age groups. 

Right to know

By providing consumers with essential information about associated health risks, alcohol content and calorie content, Ireland aims to empower individuals to make healthier choices and reduce the harms caused by alcohol consumption.

Minister Donnelly emphasized the importance of this step: “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.”

Dr Carina Ferreira-Borges, Regional Adviser for Alcohol, Illicit Drugs and Prison Health at WHO/Europe, explained, “Alcohol harm impacts us all – families, communities and society. Rather than urging people to ‘drink responsibly’, we should be raising public awareness of the range of harms associated with alcohol consumption.”

She added, “WHO has long advocated for comprehensive labelling on alcohol products, recognizing that it can inform consumers about the risks associated with alcohol consumption so that they can make informed choices. We commend Ireland for their progressive approach in prioritizing public health and setting a precedent in the EU with the introduction of mandatory alcohol labelling.”

Pioneers of public health 

With the new regulations in place, Ireland will be the first country with comprehensive health labelling on all alcohol products. Ireland will also be the first country in the EU and the second country worldwide (after South Korea) to introduce cancer warnings on alcohol products. 

The Irish regulations are groundbreaking in that they provide detailed specifications on the size, colour and other design elements of the health warnings, ensuring visibility of the message. They also mandate the provision of similar health information in licensed premises. 

Minister Donnelly expressed his satisfaction with Ireland’s pioneering role: “I welcome that we are the first country in the world to take this step and introduce comprehensive health labelling of alcohol products. I look forward to other countries following our example.”

As Ireland takes the lead in this critical endeavour, WHO stands ready to support and collaborate with countries in implementing evidence-based alcohol policies and interventions that prioritize health and well-being.

In 2022, with funding from the EU’s Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, WHO/Europe launched the Evidence into Action Alcohol Project (EVID-ACTION), which will support countries in implementing similar measures. Its main objectives include developing an evidence base on alcohol health warning labels with a specific focus on cancer risks, and informing the design and development of alcohol health warning labels and providing guidance on their implementation.

Source : World Health Organization