Responsible drinking issues around the world - The IARD Digest - November 2017

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Once a month, the drinks industry-funded International Alliance for Responsible Drinking, which covers alcohol policies worldwide, looks at what's going on in-market to promote a more responsible role for alcohol in society.

Every month, the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking looks at responsible drinking stories from around the world

Every month, the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking looks at responsible drinking stories from around the world

  • Argentina - Government withdraws beer tax increase, a week after dropping controversial new wine tax

Official sources in Argentina have confirmed that a proposed beer tax increase is set to be pulled. The Chamber of the Argentine Brewing Industry had complained that by increasing duties from 8% to 17%, the planned rise, proposed by the Ministry of Treasury & Public Finances, would increase the price of beer by 6%. In a report to the ministry, the trade association also noted that average per-capita beer consumption in the country had declined to 41 litres in 2016, one of the lowest levels recorded in the last ten years.

The Government recently withdrew the wine and sparkling wine taxation measure from its draft tax reform package, in the face of unexpectedly strong political opposition to taxing the country's "national drink".

  • Belgium - Government attacked for selling confiscated alcohol at significantly-discounted prices

Trade association Vinum Et Spiritus has complained about alcohol sales from the Belgian state's Fin Shop retail outlets, through which it disposes of consumer goods that have been confiscated through criminal investigations or abandoned at post offices. Vinum Et Spiritus CEO Geert Van Lerberghe published a white paper stating that "[a]s long as there is a legal or judicial framework mandating that Fin Shop sells seized alcohol beverages publicly - or at auctions - the way in which these sales are concretely organised is completely contrary to the Code of Economic Law's provisions pertaining to market competition".

Van Lerberghe added that producers are already under financial strains after the Government increased excise rates in 2015, and could not afford to also compete with Fin Shop outlets starting to sell alcohol "too cheaply".

  • China - Distiller criticised for claiming its baijiu contains cancer-preventing elements

Jiangnan University recently published a study asserting that the China's traditional distilled spirit, baijiu, contains elements that can prevent cancer. Distiller Guizhou Dongjiu subsequently used the results in marketing claims that its baiju contains more of the anti-cancer chemical than any other on the market.

The country's scientific community has roundly criticised the distiller for its interpretation of the study, asserting that the benefit derived from naturally-occurring tetrapeptide (AKRA) peptides in baijiu does not necessarily mean that the entire product can confer health benefits. A China Brand Research Institute spokesperson also stated that alcohol marketing is prohibited from using medical terms, or terms that could be easily confused with medical products, and that the distiller's advertisements were therefore illegal.

  • Cyprus - Government denies reports that it permitted sales of contaminated wine in 2015

Politis has published an article alleging that the Cypriot Government had been aware that domestic wines produced in 2015 contained the banned pesticide oxadixyl, following state laboratory tests. The article claims that the departments of public health services, agriculture, and trade service had "agreed - if not conspired - in favour of silence [on the issue]" to avoid impacting wine sales. The Government has been accused of only withdrawing a small portion of the affected stocks from the market, leaving the bulk of the contaminated wine available for public consumption.

A senior Ministry of Health source denied the claim, citing a laboratory report from 2015 stating that the trace levels of oxadixyl posed no threat to the public. The source also claimed that the Government had also immediately removed all remaining stocks from the market as a precaution.

  • Europe - European Commission may introduce a common zero BAC limit for all novice drivers

Members of the European Parliament have adopted a resolution for the European Commission to evaluate the "added value" of a 0.0 mg/ml limit on novice drivers across all member states, as part of a series of measures intended to increase road safety. MEPs heard that approximately 25% of all EU road-traffic fatalities are alcohol-related, and the parliament expressed support for some member states' existing zero-tolerance drink-driving policies.

The zero limit would also apply to professional drivers, and MEPs also discussed the EU-wide introduction of alcohol interlock devices during a wider debate about the benefits of driver assistance systems and technology.

  • Ireland - An Garda Síochána breath-testing discrepancy increases to an "inaccurate and dishonest" 1.9m

The Policing Authority has commissioned an independent report into Garda traffic officers' mass exaggeration of breath-test numbers, which was originally reported as an inflation of almost 100% between 2012 and 2016. Accounting consultants Crowe Howarth found that a "perfect storm" of staffing cuts combined with top-down management pressure to increase breath-testing had led to traffic officers recording fake tests to hit targets.

Auditors also detected 400,000 additional false tests over the period than were previously reported, which when combined with an additional 500,000 discovered in September, gives a total of 1.9m fake tests.

  • Lithuania - Prime Minister dismisses proposal to amend the new legal purchase age before it's been introduced

The Government's amendments to the Alcohol Control Act are scheduled to take effect at the beginning of 2018, and among other measures will increase the legal purchase age from 18 to 20 years old. Members of the Seimas Aušrine Armonaite have announced plans to submit amendments that would exempt consumers between 18 and 20 from purchasing beverages with an abv of less than 13%. A Liberal Movement party member has also argued that the new age limit is disproportionate and demonstrates a lack of faith in young adults.

However, Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis stated that the Government had made "difficult decisions" in drafting the new legislation, and that its measures should be assessed before any further alterations are made.

  • Russia - Stores would be prevented from fraudulently operating as bars and cafes to bypass opening hours restrictions

The State Duma is considering legislative amendments that would give regional authorities greater control over the locations and hours of sale of alcohol retailers, which are increasingly claiming to be hospitality venues rather than shops. Bars, cafes, and snack bars are subject to less stringent regulations than retailers, so many stores are adding a small number of chairs and a kitchen appliance, such as sandwich toaster, in order to continue selling alcohol after hours.

  • Sri Lanka - University distances itself from misinterpreted research used to reduce beer duties

The Ministry of Finance's draft Budget 2018 would significantly reduce tax rates on beer and wine with the stated intention of addressing a 49% consumption rate for unrecorded alcohol. The ministry's proposal, which sourced the data from a Colombo University study, provoked strong political opposition after the head of the university's economics department said that while a member of faculty did conduct the research, it should be regarded as a personal study rather than an official university one, having been produced independently.

Senior lecturer Dr Priyanga Dunusinghe commented that there had been "a miscommunication" of information, as his paper did not state that 49% of the population was consuming unrecorded alcohol but that its market share was 49%, which is in line with existing WHO estimates.

  • Uruguay - Ministry of Public Health looks to ban alcohol consumption tournament

Participants in the upcoming National Beverage Tournament will take part in a so-called "alcohol resistance test", with teams of four set to jointly consume 24 litres of beer, 2 litres of whiskey, 4 litres of caipirinha, 2 litres of grapa, and 1 litre of Tequila. The organisers and hosts of the tournament recently met with the country's Ministry of Public Health to discuss the event, but after the venue owners agreed not to host the event, the organisers said that they would simply find another venue.

While the General Assembly is currently considering draft legislation that would prohibit events that encourage alcohol consumption, the ministry plans to ask the courts to temporarily suspend the widely-reported event while it decides how to proceed. Minister of Public Health Jorge Basso commented that the public outcry around the event is indicative of the potential harm to participants, adding that the Government would treat the situation as a public health issue.

For further details on The IARD, click here.

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