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DUBLIN (Reuters) - The Irish government, aiming to change the country's "damaging attitude to alcohol", approved on Wednesday plans for minimum prices for drinks in the hope of reducing one of Europe's highest levels of alcohol consumption.
A bill to be submitted to parliament later this month would set a minimum of 10 euro cents per gram of alcohol, ban cut-price marketing, restrict "happy hours" and prohibit advertising for drinks near schools, playgrounds and public transport, a health ministry statement said.
Alcohol advertisements could only be broadcast after 9 p.m., it said, and would be banned from sports grounds during events where most participants are children.
"Ireland needs to change its damaging attitude to alcohol," it quoted Health Minister Leo Varadkar as saying. "Four out of ten drinkers typically engage in binge drinking."
The bill, which Varadkar said was the first in Ireland to address alcohol as a public health issue, aims to reduce average annual alcohol consumption in Ireland from one of the highest levels in Europe at 11 liters per person to 9.1 liters by 2020.
The statement noted that Advocate General Yves Bot of the European Court of Justice had said in September that a similar plan in Scotland might breach European law, but said it was working with him on drawing up the Irish law.
The Scotch Whisky Association and two European federations for spirits and for wines have challenged the Scottish legislation, saying it restricted the trade of drinks between Scotland and EU member states and could distort competition.
Ireland's largest business lobby group IBEC on Wednesday said the legislation failed to tackle alcohol abuse and instead penalizes responsible consumers and could threaten jobs.
C&C, the largest alcoholic drinks producer listed on Ireland's stock exchange, said it welcomed the legislation but warned that the lack of restrictions on international sporting events and media platforms might put it at a disadvantage.
Reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Tom Heneghan