Alcohol Warning Labels to be introduced in Ireland in 2026

Health information on alcohol products allows consumers to make informed choices about the risks of consuming alcohol. Ireland is the first country in the European Union (EU) to ensure that, from 2026, all alcohol products will have comprehensive labelling about health risks from consumption, including warnings about the risks of developing cancers.

The Public Health (Alcohol) (Labelling) Regulations 2023 and remaining provisions of Section 12 of Ireland’s Public Health (Alcohol) Act were officially signed by Minister of Health Stephen Donnelly on 22 May 2023. Under the regulations, alcohol product labels in Ireland will include important information, such as calorie content and grams of alcohol. These labels will also prominently display warnings about the risks associated with alcohol consumption during pregnancy, as well as the dangers of liver disease and cancers caused by alcohol.

Alcohol consumption can have devastating effects on individuals and communities, causing over 200 conditions and diseases, including 7 types of cancer. In the EU, light to moderate drinking levels were responsible for almost 23 000 new cancer cases in 2017, nearly half of which were female breast cancers.  “The medical evidence is clear that a cancer risk applies even at lower levels of alcohol consumption,” said Minister of State for Public Health, Wellbeing and the National Drugs Strategy Hildegarde Naughton.

The decision to introduce mandatory health labelling on alcohol products came in response to alarming statistics surrounding alcohol-related harms in Ireland, in combination with low population awareness among Irish consumers regarding the health risks associated with alcohol consumption.  The Irish Health Survey, conducted in Ireland every year with over 7000 respondents, showed that 7% of respondents believed it was safe to consume a small amount of alcohol while pregnant and almost 80% were unaware of the risks of diseases such as breast cancer. Those aged 15–24 were typically less aware of the risks associated with alcohol consumption than other age groups.

By providing consumers with essential information about associated health risks, alcohol content and calorie content, Ireland aims to empower individuals to make healthier choices and reduce the harms caused by alcohol consumption. Minister Donnelly emphasized the importance of this step: “This law is designed to give all of us as consumers a better understanding of the alcohol content and health risks associated with consuming alcohol. With that information, we can make an informed decision about our own alcohol consumption.”

Dr Carina Ferreira-Borges, Regional Adviser for Alcohol, Illicit Drugs and Prison Health at WHO/Europe, explained, “Alcohol harm impacts us all – families, communities and society. Rather than urging people to ‘drink responsibly’, we should be raising public awareness of the range of harms associated with alcohol consumption.” She added, “WHO has long advocated for comprehensive labelling on alcohol products, recognizing that it can inform consumers about the risks associated with alcohol consumption so that they can make informed choices. We commend Ireland for their progressive approach in prioritizing public health and setting a precedent in the EU with the introduction of mandatory alcohol labelling.”

With the new regulations in place, Ireland will be the first country with comprehensive health labelling on all alcohol products. Ireland will also be the first country in the EU and the second country worldwide (after South Korea) to introduce cancer warnings on alcohol products. The Irish regulations are groundbreaking in that they provide detailed specifications on the size, colour and other design elements of the health warnings, ensuring visibility of the message. They also mandate the provision of similar health information in licensed premises.

Minister Donnelly expressed his satisfaction with Ireland’s pioneering role: “I welcome that we are the first country in the world to take this step and introduce comprehensive health labelling of alcohol products. I look forward to other countries following our example.” As Ireland takes the lead in this critical endeavour, WHO stands ready to support and collaborate with countries in implementing evidence-based alcohol policies and interventions that prioritize health and well-being.

In 2022, with funding from the EU’s Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, WHO/Europe launched the Evidence into Action Alcohol Project (EVID-ACTION), which will support countries in implementing similar measures. Its main objectives include developing an evidence base on alcohol health warning labels with a specific focus on cancer risks, and informing the design and development of alcohol health warning labels and providing guidance on their implementation.


The Irish government was “grateful and somewhat surprised” that the European Commission did not reject their draft regulation for health warning labels on alcohol, despite renewed attempts by other member states to block the proposal. The draft regulation to the 2018 Irish Public Health (Alcohol) Act, which addresses for the first time alcohol as a public health issue in the Irish legal framework, would require alcohol products to have mandatory health warnings added to their labels, like those on tobacco products.

Any national attempt to regulate food labelling is frowned upon at the European level, as it could fragment the single market by creating different marketing standards and requirements for companies operating in the sector. For this reason, a proposal for food labelling to apply at a national level and not EU-wide requires a specific approval procedure by the European Commission under the Single Market Transparency Directive (SMTD) and under the 2011 EU regulation on food information to consumers.

The consultation process on the Irish alcohol labelling, conducted by the European Commission’s Technical Regulation Information System (TRIS), was tasked with preventing technical barriers to internal trade. It formally ended on 22 December with no objections raised – a verdict that, procedurally speaking, amounts to tacit approval.

“Clearly what we’re doing is a breach of the single market in some way, in the sense that we’re looking for extra changes to a product compared to the way it’s sold in other countries,” Claire Gordon, manager of the tobacco and alcohol control unit at the Irish Department of Health, explained at an event. “We are very grateful and indeed somewhat surprised – and somewhat surprised is an understatement – that our proposals got through that EU assessment process successfully,” Gordon told the event, organised by the Swedish presidency of the EU Council.

The next steps, she said, will include a notification to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), as the new labelling system might be considered an obstacle to international trade. According to Gordon, this final step could present some other hardships for the Irish government. “Hopefully within two to three months, we’ll be able to kick off this law and then the next thing is for everybody else to follow,” she commented.

Pushback from wine-producing countries

Wine-producing countries remain unconvinced by Ireland’s unilateral approach, as stressed by Spanish Agriculture Minister Luis Planas, who called for a common approach to alcohol labelling to preserve the single market. “We have respect for the competence of the member states in health matters, but here we are regulating a food product recognised by the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU.”

In a position issued on 1 February, the Assembly of European Wine Regions (AREV), stressed that Ireland’s draft law calls into question “the unity of Europe in the implementation of democratically adopted decisions, putting at risk, in this case, the wine sector, which is so important for the structuring of the territory and the socio-economic fabric of rural areas.”

A coalition of member states led by Italy, France and Spain teamed up against the draft regulation at the most recent gathering of EU agricultural ministers. In a joint document, the coalition said it hopes to persuade the Irish government to take milder positions through dialogue and embrace an EU-wide approach to alcohol labelling instead of national decisions. However, Irish government officials confirmed to the Italian news agency Ansa that the tacit consent from Brussels “represents another important step to adopt these rules”.

Dublin wants all alcoholic drinks labels to carry warnings similar to those on cigarette packets, highlighting the risks of liver disease and developing fatal cancers. This has been met with a fierce backlash from fellow EU member states, especially those that export large volumes of wine across the bloc.

Italy, whose wine industry is worth around €14 billion per year and employs roughly 1.3 million people, has spearheaded the protests. Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani called the Irish plan an ‘attack’ on Italy’s identity and heritage. Trade body Coldiretti said that the ‘terrifying’ warning labels would set ‘a dangerous precedent at a European level’. Wine producers argue that it is unfair to compare alcohol with cigarettes, as it can be enjoyed in moderation without impacting health.

The Comité Européen des Entreprises Vins (CEEV) has now submitted a formal complaint to the European Commission. It wants the commission to open an infringement procedure against Ireland for breaching EU law and jeopardising the single market. CEEV’s complaint declares that Ireland’s proposed labels are ‘incompatible’ with EU law, and accuses them of representing ‘a disproportionate and unjustified barrier to trade contrary to Articles 34 and 36 of the Treaty of Functioning of the EU’.

It adds that Dublin has ‘never properly justified’ the measure proposed, and says that the labels ‘fail to distinguish between alcohol abuse and moderate wine consumption, therefore failing to accurately inform consumers’. CEEV president Mauricio González-Gordon said: ‘They will fragment the EU single market by affecting its proper functioning, de facto hindering access of products from other member states to Ireland and thus generating clear discrimination to imported products. ‘While we fully support the fight against alcohol abuse, we strongly believe this objective could be achieved by more effective and less trade-restrictive measures that should be, in addition, compatible with current EU law.’

Thirteen EU member states have raised concerns about Dublin’s proposed rules, and eight non-EU countries also flagged the issue to the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Ignacio Sánchez Recarte, the secretary general of CEEV, which represents wine producers in 25 countries, said: ‘With Ireland’s lack of reaction to the many concerns raised by national governments and with the inexplicable failure of the European Commission to act and defend the EU law and EU single market, we were left with no other choice but to present an official EU complaint to request an infringement procedure to be opened against Ireland. ‘We remain convinced that it is the responsibility of the European Commission to work towards defining a harmonised and scientifically appropriate legal framework that protects the EU single market and adequately informs consumers.’

The Irish Department of Health hopes to ‘kick off this law’ by the summer, according to tobacco and alcohol control unit manager Claire Gordon, but European wine producers will continue to oppose the plans.