The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill aimed at reducing alcohol consumption was finally passed last week, more than 1000 days after it was introduced in parliament. It will allow for a series of changes to be implemented nationwide, including minimum pricing per unit of alcohol, restrictions on advertising, the introduction of cancer warning labels, and the separation of alcoholic products from retail areas inside shops.

There was a round of applause after the Bill was passed. Minister for Health, Simon Harris, hailed the legislation as a positive achievement for the well-being of the entire country.

“For the very first time in our history we are legislating for alcohol as it affects our health and it is right and proper that we do that”, he said. “We know we have a relationship with alcohol in this country that is not good, that damages our health, that harms our community. This will help to change the culture of drinking in Ireland over a period of time.”

Bill will reduce harm and save lives

Some EU countries had argued that the Bill was a disproportionate response to the issue of alcohol misuse, and that the introduction of new labelling rules would damage trade and discriminate against imported products. In all, 14 EU countries made submissions to the European Commission about the alcohol bill. They argued that minimum pricing may be in breach of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), which states rules on the free movement of goods.

However, Alcohol Action Ireland, an independent national charity for alcohol-related issues, said the new legislation would help change the country’s drinking culture and reduce harm. Binge drinking is prevalent among 39% of adult drinkers, according to a 2017 Irish Health Survey by the Central Statistics Office. Excessive consumption has also been shown to play a steady role in deaths related to drunken driving, assaults, suicide and domestic violence nationwide. Alcohol is the cause of three deaths a day in Ireland, according to a 2016 report from the Health Research Board, and is a factor in 38% of all road fatalities.

“Soon, Ireland will commence the implementation of the Bill; the measures as designed, when implemented coherently and cohesively, and in a timely manner, will make a significant difference, over time, to reducing Ireland’s excessive alcohol consumption, altering our drinking culture and ultimately protect our children”, said Alcohol Action Ireland.

Ireland is the second European country in recent months to bring in legislation to curb problem drinking. In May, Scotland became the first country in the world to set a minimum price per unit on alcohol, with its government stating that the measure will save lives.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who supported the Bill, is equally as hopeful. He took to Twitter, saying: “Decision made today will be remembered by history and will save countless lives.”

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