HM Govt is consulting on a statutory Code of Practice for Alcohol Retailers. Tight controls over “all you can drink”-style promotions feature and linked new Food Safety Act requirements for on-sale and off-sale display of alcohol content and health information. Roberto Crespi reports on these sobering developments.
Who: Home Office
When: 13 May 2009
Law stated as at: 31 May 2009
A July 2008 Home Office consultation on alcohol consumption in the UK and what to do about it revealed that the estimated annual public cost of reckless drinking was in the region of £13 billion.
Amongst the measures proposed in the consultation were new, compulsory rules for alcohol retailers and now HM Govt. has published its detailed proposals including a suggested "Code of Practice for Alcohol Retailers."
Introducing the new Code to the public, the Home Secretary explains that “We are committed to taking the action necessary to both prevent the sales practices that most clearly lead to alcohol-related violence, public nuisance, crime and disorder and to encourage best practice” (quoted on http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/cons-2009-alcohol/cons-2009-alcohol-doc?view=Binary, page 5).
The broad scope of the Code covers bars, clubs and pubs (so called “on-trade” retailers), shops and supermarkets (“off-trade”) and other retailers who encourage shoppers to buy alcohol.
New binding rules for alcohol sellers
One key target of the Code is "sales practices that most clearly lead to alcohol-related violence, public nuisance, crime and disorder". Promotions and activities that encourage people to drink irresponsibly will be banned, so it will likely be farewell to promotions such as “All you can drink” and “Ladies drink for free.”
In addition, alcohol retailers will have to provide information and choices people need to be able to ensure they drink responsibly.
At point of sale, both on and off-trade premises will have to visibly and legibly display the UK unit alcohol content of a representative sample of any alcohol product being sold.
Off-trade premises will have to visibly and legibly display information about the health risks of excessive, regular and binge drinking and of drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
"Visibly and legibly" is to be defined as being within sight of every point of sale in the on-trade (e.g. pubs, bars and clubs) and within sight of every display of alcohol stock offered for sale in the off-trade (e.g. shops or supermarkets).
For the off-trade, the Government already has a voluntary agreement with industry to show the unit content and health guidelines on labels for each bottle or container and this will remain in place.
Alcoholic strength "material information"?
The proposal refers in the context of compulsory information disclosure to the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. In particular the obligation in those Regulations to provide "material information" is mentioned. Given that this already expressly requires an indication of the price, the Home Office does not feel that an undue additional burden will be imposed by requiring also that alcoholic strength information is shown alongside the price.
The proposals see the obligation on the off-trade to provide health etc disclosures as extending to the provision of information about the current guidelines on regular daily unit consumption. Also required would be prescribed messages about the health risks of excessive alcohol consumption, all to follow a format and rules on size and placement prescribed by government.
An example is provided as follows:
Alcohol: Know Your Limits
Do not regularly exceed 3-4 units daily (for men) and 2-3 units daily (for women)
For advice contact Drinkline, the national 24-hour helpline,
On 0800 917 82 82 or visit
Drinkaware at www.drinkaware.co.uk
Assuming there is space left, it is also proposed to require the display of standard messages concerning health risks consistent with the Department of Health's "Know your limits" unit campaign.
Other means to tackle irresponsible drinking
For off-trade marketers, the Code will require a commitment to ensuring that online or mail order alcohol sales processes have strong age-verification systems to prevent underage sales.
Rules centred on the point of sale are not the only intended means to tackle irresponsible drinking. The Code requires that bars, clubs and pubs have to make free glasses of tap water promptly available for their customers!
Why this matters:
The Government clearly takes this issue seriously. “I understand there may be concerns about imposing new costs on industry during a period of economic downturn. However, the benefits of the proposed package of measures not only include the prevention of crime, disorder and nuisance, but also support the Government’s policy outlined in “Looking after our town centres” by tackling places plagued by alcohol-related problems and helping to establish safer and more attractive town and city centres” the Home Secretary says (quoted on http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/cons-2009-alcohol/cons-2009-alcohol-doc?view=Binary, page 3).
The fine proposed by the code for retailers not complying with the Code confirms the attitude of the Government. It is worth remembering that a £20,000 fine, or in the case of landlords the loss of their licence or six months in prison could be the fate of retailers found in breach of the Code. Therefore, close attention should be paid by marketers both at national and a local level to fulfill with such new provisions.
The consultation will run for 12 weeks. Enter the online survey and download the Government’s proposal at http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/cons-2009-alcohol/.