Alcohol Abuse in Ireland Targeted by Irish Government

A new Public Health Bill is to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol products based on the alcohol content of the drink.

Irish Government is trying to reduce Alcohol consumption

The new laws are an effort to reduce the consumption of cheaper high-alcohol beers, wines and spirits. For the first time products will be targeted based on the actual amount of alcohol they contain.

Other new measures include:

* From 2016 alcohol advertising on TV and Radio is to be confined to evening time.

* Advertising of alcohol in Cinemas will be confined to over-18 movies only.

* Outdoor advertising of alcohol will also be restricted.

* Supermarkets and other outlets will have to relocate alcohol products to their own separate location within a premises.

* All alcohol products will in future carry health warnings (but significantly not with the kind of graphic pictures used on cigarette packets).

The President of the Irish Medical Organisation, Dr Matthew Sadlier, welcomed the new regulations:

“In Ireland, despite high excise duties alcohol has become increasingly more affordable. Under a minimum pricing structure, the price per unit becomes more expensive particularly affecting demand by younger binge drinkers and excessive harmful drinkers. Thus minimum pricing can reduce alcohol-related harm without necessarily penalising moderate drinkers.”

The new laws have been criticized for not going far enough and especially for not banning the sponsorship of sporting events by alcohol companies. In a surprising ‘pact with the devil’ the Irish sports lobby successfully persuaded Government that the withdrawal of sponsorship by the alcohol companies would severely impact on funding for sporting activities.

Pat Hickey, the President of the Olympic Council of Ireland, clearly disagreed with some of his colleagues in the Irish sporting community and responded by launching a scathing attack on the drinks industry in Ireland and particularly on the veiled threats by Diageo to reduce its investment in Ireland should a ban on drinks-industry sponsorship of sporting events be implemented:

I thought it was an absolute disgrace to read a report of an international company, Diageo, making an attack on the Irish Government and the Irish State about how they should conduct their business and investment. This is a multinational that has no interest whatsoever in Ireland except they happen to have a product beginning with ‘G’ and they promote that in Irish pubs just to get bigger profits around the world.

Abuse of Alcohol in Ireland costs Billions

A report that was recently published by the Health Research Board revealed that 58% of Irish people think the Government is not doing enough to reduce alcohol consumption. 85% of those surveyed believe that the current level of consumption of alcohol in Ireland is far too high. Average consumption in the year 2010 was 145% higher than the average amount consumed in the year 1960, a huge increase by any standard.

While the drinks industry in Ireland may be concerned at the new regulations they will surely be celebrating their most recent success at being able to continue their sponsorship of Irish sporting events.

Where they can recruit new and young devotees.

And all aided and abetted by the Irish sports lobby!

by Michael Green
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Vested Interests Attempt To Scupper Alcohol Advertising Ban

The ongoing attempts to reduce the amount of alcohol consumption in Ireland have been met with predictable opposition from those with most to lose.

Irish sporting associations receive alcohol sponsorhip

The head of Diageo in Ireland, who own the Guinness brand, has warned that a ban on sports sponsorship in Ireland could lead to a reduction in its future investment in the country. The thinly veiled threat is aimed squarely at the Government who are attempting to ban sponsorship by alcohol companies at all Irish sporting events. The plan is to phase out all sponsorship links between high-profile sporting events and alcohol brands by the year 2020.

The Gaelic Athletic Association and Irish Rugby benefit greatly from sponsorship by Guinness and Heineken respectively. It is inevitable that the ban of this sponsorship will mean less money for these huge sports. Nevertheless the Government seem determined to press ahead with the ban, realizing the devastating effect that alcohol consumption can have on young lives. The cost to the Irish taxpayer in dealing with health-care and crime issues from those abusing alcohol costs the State at least 3.7 Billion Euro annually. (* note 1)

A recent report by the Health Research Board has found that 58% of Irish people believe the Government is not doing enough to reduce alcohol consumption while 85% of Irish people believe that the current level of alcohol consumption in Ireland is far too high. Average alcohol consumption in the year 2010 was 145% higher than the average amount consumed in the year 1960, a startling increase.

Recent initiatives (and the recession) have helped to curb some of these excesses. A CSO report indicates that alcohol consumption in Ireland is actually down 19% since 2001.

Speaking at the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) Committee on Transport and Communications Pat Hickey, the President of the Olympic Council of Ireland, lambasted the drinks industry:

I thought it was an absolute disgrace to read a report of an international company, Diageo, making an attack on the Irish Government and the Irish State about how they should conduct their business and investment. This is a multinational that has no interest whatsoever in Ireland except they happen to have a product beginning with ‘G’ and they promote that in Irish pubs just to get bigger profits around the world.

John Treacy is Chief Executive of the Irish Sports Council and won a Silver medal in the Marathon at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. He offered a different angle, suggesting that any ban would force the very best of Irish rugby players to ply their trade abroad, in much the same way that the best Irish soccer players work in England.

The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland also had their say to the Committee arguing that any ban would not address alcohol misuse. A spokesperson remarking:

Evidence shows that the principal influencers on youth drinking are parents and peers.
Alcohol consumption in Ireland has a huge cost
It should not be a real surprise then that those sporting bodies who receive sponsorship from alcohol companies would oppose any ban. It would mean that they would have to find new sponsors.

But perhaps the real question that is not being asked is just why the alcohol companies engage in such advertising? The answer is obvious if unspoken. It is clear that they hugely benefit from their sponsorship and especially benefit in attracting younger people to their brands, since it is to a large degree the younger generation who are most passionate about sport.

Younger people. The next generation of drinkers.

It is ironic that sporting agencies that are supposed to help further the health and well-being of young people are arguing for their efforts to be associated with Ireland’s biggest killer, alcohol. Of course they are most concerned about the next five years and about promoting sport in Ireland, which is admirable. But it is the next twenty-five years and the next fifty years that really should be the focus.

The links between pub-owners and politicians, especially in rural locations is hard to break. The financial contribution of the multi-national drinks companies is impossible to ignore. The Irish sports bodies are even arguing against a sponsorship ban.

Is it any wonder that there is such a huge alcohol problem in Ireland?

Meanwhile the Irish drinking binge goes on.

* note 1: See http://alcoholireland.ie/facts/alcohol-related-harm-facts-and-statistics/

by Michael Green
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‘Drink and Drive’ Permits Sought by Irish Politician

Kerry County Councillor Danny Healy-Rae has called for a special permit to be given to rural people to allow them to visit their local pub, have a few drinks and then drive home without fear of prosecution.

Successive Irish Governments have enabled a big crackdown on the ‘drink and drive’ culture over the last decade. The blood-alcohol limit has been reduced significantly on a number of occasions and there is now much greater enforcement of the laws. An Garda Siochana (Irish Police) can now breathalyse any driver in any situation – no ‘please walk a straight line’ test is needed.

The smoking ban that was introduced in 2004 had the dual effect of curbing the use of tobacco in the workplace as well as impacting severely on the number of times Irish people would visit the pub. People chose to stay at home where they could smoke, if they wished, and also not risk a driving ban if they used their car.

The result has been widespread closures of pubs across Ireland, especially in rural locations. Combine these factors with the devastating effect the recent recession and major tax hikes have had on Irish disposable income and the vista is a very bleak one for the famous Irish pub.

Against this backdrop Councillor Healy-Rae has launched his campaign for the introduction of some kind of scheme to allow rural pub-goers to be allowed to have two or three pints and then drive home. He makes the case that the rural lifestyle is being decimated by the recently introduced regulations and that many country people who live on the periphery of small towns and villages, or perhaps live even more remotely, are existing in a kind of state-sponsored isolation, afraid as they are to drive to a pub and have even a single pint such is their fear of being caught and banned, or even imprisoned.

The chance of any success with Danny Healy-Rae’s campaign is just about zero. Irish roads are a lot safer now than they were even a decade ago, both in terms of the physical infrastructure and the fact that there is a vastly reduced amount of drinking and driving being risked by the Irish citizenry. There will be no turning back that particular clock.

Nevertheless the Kerry Councillor has highlighted a real problem that does exist for many rural and lonely people who are unserved by public transport and unable to afford private taxis or hired transport. Many will remain in an increasing isolation and seclusion, at least partly because of the laws designed to protect us all.

by Michael Green
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Controversial Sugar Tax to be introduced into Ireland

The Irish government looks set to follow the lead of several other countries and introduce a tax on sugary soft drinks such as lemonade and cola. It is expected that the tax will be a 10% hike in excise duty which would add about 20 cents to the cost of a 250 cents bottle of soda. The government is torn between wanting to reduce the intake of fattening foods and drinks in the general population while also not wanting to damage employment and add to household bills.

Efforts in Ireland to decrease the consumption of certain products by taxing them have had only limited success. Over the decades there have successive small increases in the price of cigarettes and alcohol. The tax hikes on cigarettes have very much outpaced those on alcohol and certainly do have an effect on consumption, especially when combined with the ban on smoking in the workplace and the current societal disapproval of tobacco. The overall momentum against smoking allowed successive governments to tax cigarettes heavily.

The same cannot be said about alcohol consumption. The policy of continually raising the tax on alcohol in small amounts has not had any great effect on consumption. Critics of the policy advocate for a single very large increase in tax on alcohol, perhaps even to increase the price by 50% or 100%, in order to have any kind of real shock impact. The revenue raised from this tax could be used for health education programs and even to fund hospital emergency departments that are inundated with alcohol-related patients every weekend.

The need for action in the food and drinks sector is now obvious. 60% of the Irish adult Irish population and nearly 25% of all 7-year-olds are classified as being either overweight or obese. By any measure this is a shocking statistic and is a recipe for a diabetes epidemic in the years to come, along with a whole other raft of health problems.

The introduction of a sugar tax on certain flattening products is likely a good idea, but unless it is of a sufficient amount then it seems certain that its impact will be minimal.