Wednesday 28 September 2016

Last Christmas to stock up on cheap alcohol offers

Published 29/11/2015 | 02:30

Clampdown: Health Minister Leo Varadkar
Clampdown: Health Minister Leo Varadkar

This could be the last Christmas shoppers can stock up on cheap drink for the festive season as the Government is to begin the process of enacting minimum alcohol pricing laws in the coming weeks.

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Health Minister Leo Varadkar will bring proposed legislation before Cabinet in the next two weeks, which for the first time will impose strict rules on below-cost selling of beer, wine and spirits.

"The intention is to get it before one of the Houses of the Oireachtas before the end of the year if possible," a senior government source said.

The new laws could see the minimum price of a bottle of wine set at €8.80 and a can of beer will have to be sold for at least €2.20.

This could add huge expense at Christmas when alcohol sales soar as people bulk buy for family and friends visiting over the holiday period.

Supermarket chains regularly offer cheap deals on alcohol over Christmas, with shoppers availing of 24 bottles of beer for just €24, or six bottles of wine for the price of five.

However, Mr Varadkar's plan is aimed at clamping down on shops and supermarkets selling alcohol below cost as he believes this is fuelling alcohol abuse in Ireland.

A shocking 88 people die every month in Ireland due to alcohol-related medical problems, and there is almost twice as many deaths from alcohol as there is from drug abuse.

Studies have found introducing minimum pricing units on alcohol could reduce national consumption by more than 8pc and result in almost 6,000 fewer alcohol-related hospital admissions.

Mr Varadkar previously said the days of 15 cans being sold for €15 was "in the past".

"Most Irish adults drink too much and many drink dangerously," he added.

"This has an enormous impact on our society and economy through greater illness and higher health costs, public order and violent offences, road traffic collisions, injuries and absence from work."

The Vintners Federation of Ireland supports the introduction of minimum price legislation but the move could be blocked by the European Union Court of Justice.

The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 will also propose introducing compulsory health warnings and calorie counts on alcohol packaging.

The labels will warn that drinking alcohol can cause liver disease, cancer and hepatitis. They will also warn about the dangers of drinking while pregnant.

Health inspectors will be given strengthened powers to enforce the new rules and ensure supermarkets and off-licences comply with the legislation. There will also be restrictions on alcohol marketing and advertising on social media, especially to young people and children.

Alcohol companies will also be banned from advertising their brands on television and radio before 9pm.

Drinks companies will not be banned from sponsoring sporting events, as was previously proposed, but this issue will be examined again in three years.

However, on-pitch advertising of alcohol at major sporting events, which is regularly seen in Croke Park and the Aviva Stadium, will be prohibited under the new rules.

This element of the legislation is likely to put Mr Varadkar on a collision course with the drinks industry and sporting organisations but he is determined to curb the glamorisation of alcohol consumption.

Alcohol abuse groups are hugely supportive of the minister's plan to introduce tighter regulations around alcohol sales and advertising.

Sunday Independent

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