EU Beating Cancer plan paves way for Ireland’s labelling of alcohol

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Alcohol Action Ireland, the national independent advocate for reducing alcohol harm today (Wed 3rd Feb), welcomed the publication by the EU Commission of its ‘Beating Cancer’ strategy. This bold and innovative step signals real intent by the Commission to drive meaningful preventative strategies across the Union. 

In identify that ‘prevention is more effective than any cure’ the strategy outlines a priority of reducing harmful alcohol use.  Alcohol-related harm is a major public health concern in the EU and accounts for over 15% of cancer attributable deaths in men and 30% in women. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC/WHO) have attributed the highest level of causal evidence to the association between use of alcoholic beverages and the development of cancer. 

In Ireland, many lives are lost to alcohol related cancers especially breast, bowel, liver, larynx, mouth, oesophagus, and pharynx, contributing to the estimated 2,700 lives (Global Burden of Diseases Study, 2018) lost annually to alcohol related harm.   

In particular, we note the Commission’s objective to improve health literacy on cancer risks and the proposed action on mandatory labelling of the list of ingredients, nutrition declaration and the ‘inclusion of health warnings’ on the label of alcoholic beverages, which they outline will be advanced ‘before the end of 2023’.  

This particular initiative, validates Ireland’s public health legislation (Public Health Alcohol Act, 2018), which, amongst other aspects, regulates the labelling of alcohol products and informs the public of the direct link between alcohol and fatal cancers. 

Commenting on the publication of the EU Commission’s strategy, Eunan McKinney, Alcohol Action Ireland’s Head of Communication, said: 

The strategic direction provided by the EU Commission on Beating Cancer is a progressive and welcome development. It provides a clear path for the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, to commence Section 12 of the Public Health Alcohol Act which prescribes the labelling of alcohol products with accurate health warnings. We understand that the drafting of regulations has been ‘interrupted’ by COVID-19 related work, however given the significance of timely interventions in cancer prevention, it should be possible to complete both. 

Professor Frank Murray, Chair, Alcohol Health Alliance, commented that: 

The IARC for many years have identified the direct link between alcohol and cancer yet our government continues to allow alcohol producers to sell their product without informing the public of the risk; citizens cannot be expected to adopt a personalised risk-assessment of their alcohol use without accurate information. This continued inaction is difficult to comprehend and is leading to unnecessary alcohol harm and sustains avoidable diagnoses and deaths. 

END