Our costly love-affair with alcohol

By Lunar Loops · Jun 3, 2006 ·
  1. Lunar Loops
    Too many vested interests methinks for a carpet ban on advertising and I don't think that is the answer anyway. This from http://www.irishhealth.com/index.html?level=4&id=9594 :

    Our costly love-affair with alcohol
    By Niall Hunter-Editor
    A leading Irish expert on alcohol abuse has called for a complete ban on the advertising of alcohol and for the introduction of random breath testing on the roads.
    Dr Joe Barry, specialist in public health medicine with the HSE and senior lecturer in public health at TCD, has also condemned the selling of cheap alcohol in off licences and has said the abolition of the Groceries Order will bring down the price of drink further and encourage young people to drink even more.
    In an interview with irishhealth.com, Dr Barry said the most logical advertising restriction to introduce on drink would be to have no advertising at all.
    "This is what needs to be done if we are really serious about tackling the problem of alcohol abuse in Ireland. A more modest restriction has been looked for whereby there would be no alcohol advertising on TV before 9pm to limit the exposure of young people to the advertising. That was opposed successfully by the drinks industry. But alcohol causes a lot of harm and the most logical thing is not to have any advertising of alcohol."

    Dr Barry denied that such a blanket restriction would be too paternalistic and restrictive. "It really depends on how serious we are in dealing with the problem. We have had a huge increase in our consumption patterns, the industry is spending millions and millions urging us to drink more, so if we think that's OK obviously we should continue with advertising, but if we really want to try to do something about alcohol abuse we should look at measures that would try to reduce the impact, and one possible way is to restrict the promotion of alcohol."
    Dr Barry said the restricting the promotion of alcohol at sporting and music events should also be looked at. "Every summer in Ireland there are many music festivals and most of them are sponsored by drink companies. I think at sporting events, particularly events that attract young people, there should be no promotion of alcohol”
    He said restricting or withdrawing drinks sponsorship from sporting events would not adversely affect those events or the organisations running them. "We have one of the wealthiest economies in Europe and plenty of other companies out there could fill the gap."
    Dr Barry said that as an immediately measure to tackle alcohol abuse, the Government, if it wanted to, could introduce random breath testing.
    "It has been talking about doing this for eight years but nothing has been done."
    He said the Government could put in structures that would deal with alcohol abuse in the same way as it has structures to deal with tobacco and illicit drugs. However, he claims the Government is not doing anything on this due to lobbying by the drinks industry.
    "A lot of people, particularly the drinks industry, claim there is a tiny minority which abuses alcohol, when in fact there is a lot of other problematic alcohol usage in Ireland that is not linked to dependence per se but is causing problems. For example, drink driving. Most people who drink and drive are not alcoholics. The blood alcohol limit in Ireland is 80 milligrammes and the first Government Taskforce report on alcohol in 2002 recommended that this be reduced to 50. The drinks industry issued a minority report to prevent this happening and succeeded in stopping it."
    Dr Barry, while agreeing there is a role for education and advertising in dealing with alcohol abuse, stressed that restrictive measures are needed as well.
    "The Department of Health/ HSE would spend around 500,000 euro on an alcohol awareness campaign, but the different drinks companies will spend several million euro for each individual campaign promoting a brand of alcohol. So it is impossible for state-based awareness campaigns to compete with this. The only logical thing to do, therefore, is to restrict the capacity of the drinks industry to promote its products."

    Dr Barry said he did not believe the drinks companies should have a role in educating the public about moderate alcohol consumption. "The drinks companies' main responsibility is to their shareholders. If you listen to the industry people when they are on business programmes on the TV they talk about the type of double-digit growth they are looking for, and they are clearly trying to get people to drink more.
    "That is incompatible with trying to lessen the harm. Their job is to sell drink. My job is to point out what the difficulties are and what can be done to limit the harm. The Government should decide what side of this debate they want to support."
    Dr Barry said it was disappointing that the GAA had decided to continue its sponsorship agreement with Diageo. "It’s certainly regrettable that the premier sporting organisation in the country on the one hand sets up a group to deal with alcohol abuse as an issue and on the other hand their marketing people are chasing Diageo for money."
    Dr Barry says the price we are paying as a nation in terms of our increasing levels of alcohol abuse is clear. "For the decade of the 1990s we had a 41% increase in per capita consumption of alcohol, and that was by far the highest increase in Europe. Many reports have shown the harm that is being caused. It is a major problem in A&E; it is linked to an increase in young adult suicide; there has been an increase in sexually transmitted infections in younger people; there has been an overall increase in alcohol-related mortality;an increase in chronic liver disease; public order offences are increasing; we continue to have too many deaths on the roads, deaths through house fires; deaths through drowning-they have all increased.”
    Dr Barry says he is against penalising people who turn up drunk in A&Es, or that they should be shifted out of A&Es altogether and dealt with separately.
    "A lot of people who are drunk have health needs and these have got to be dealt with. Drunk people in A&Es can aspirate and vomit and die and many people who are drunk have serious dangers to their own health in the immediate term so I don't think you can shift them off. If they come into A&E they have got to be seen like any other patient. Also, I do not think that charging them extra would be a disincentive.
    "I would suggest that we try and bring in measures that would lessen the number of people who are turning up with alcohol problems at A&E."
    Dr Barry said the café bars proposal from Justice Minister Michael Mc Dowell would have been a good idea in principle. "But the proposal was not really about café bars but about the liberalisation of the availability of alcohol overall and the plan was to add café bars to 'superpubs'. The 'spin' that was put on it was that we would replace superpubs with café bars, but the way the proposed legislation was presented, that would not have happened. The bill was ultimately withdrawn because the publications objected to it for other reasons."

    He feels that drink is now often sold too cheaply in off-licences and this encourages more young people to drink. “Drink has in recent years become a lot cheaper in off-licences, Pubs in one sense are now a lot safer places from the point of view of the community. The abolition of the groceries order on below cost selling is obviously going to bring the price down further. Calls to exempt alcohol from the order were ignored by the relevant Minister, Micheal Martin. This was disappointing in terms of his history of being very positive on public health issues while Minister for Health. Another key factor is it is easier for an underage person to get alcohol in an off-licence. It should also be pointed out that the relative tax on alcohol has decreased over the past 15 years."
    Dr Barry said he believes the drinks industry and vintners have too much power and influence but he feels this will change. "The public is getting more angry. I think things will change. I think a lot of people do want something done on alcohol abuse and the Government has not latched onto that yet. Some opinion polls have shown that the majority of people want something done on this.
    "When it comes to alcohol, I believe the Government is bowing too much to the power of the drinks industry and is not really taking on the measures that have been shown to be effective and that would reduce our alcohol abuse problem.
    “Most adults drink, so policy changes will have to be implemented in a slightly different way than is the case with tobacco or illicit drugs. Most adults do not now smoke; most adults do not use illicit drugs, so in a way it is easier to have policies in these areas. Effective policies on alcohol will impact on all drinkers so there is a question about whether the population is prepared to pay the price in order to have a better relationship with alcohol. I think the proportion of people who are prepared to tolerate measures across the board is increasing”.

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