Working to reduce alcohol harm

Healthy Ireland

Alcohol consumption is a key contributory risk-factor to Ireland’s burden of chronic disease, along with lifestyle factors such as smoking, poor diet and lack of physical activity.

Healthy Ireland: A Framework for Improved Health and Wellbeing 2013 – 2025, states that ‘a healthy population is essential to allow people to live their lives to their full potential, to create the right environment to sustain jobs, to help restore the economy and to look after the most vulnerable people in society’.[i]

Healthy Ireland’s goal, in relation to alcohol, is to reduce our per capita alcohol consumption in Ireland to 9.1 litres for every person aged 15 and over by 2020 and to reduce alcohol harm. Our current level of per capita alcohol consumption is 11.5 litres.

The framework recognises that ‘a healthy population is a major asset for society’ and states that improving the health and wellbeing of the nation is a priority for the Government and the whole of society. Healthy Ireland therefore calls for ‘whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches’, termed Health in All Policies (HiAP), to address Ireland’s rapidly growing chronic disease crisis.

HiAP highlights the fact that the risk factors of major diseases, or the determinants of health, are modified by measures that are often managed by other Government sectors, apart from health, as well as by other actors in society, and that ‘broad-based policy approaches are therefore needed, to ensure that health is an integral part of all relevant policy areas, including environment, social and economic policies’.

For alcohol-related harm, the Department of Finance plays a key role through the setting of excise duty, with the price of alcohol in Ireland directly linked to levels of consumption and the wide range of related harms. Our levels of alcohol consumption and harm impact on the Exchequer and all taxpayers.

Healthy Ireland points out that the ‘current health status of people living in Ireland, lifestyle trends and inequalities in health outcomes are leading us toward a future that is dangerously unhealthy and very likely unaffordable’.

The Health Research Board found that the cost of time spent in hospital for alcohol-related conditions (following an examination of alcohol-related hospital discharges) in 2012 was €1.5 billion, which is equivalent to €1 for every €10 spent on public health. That €1.5 billion figure does not include the amount spent on the many alcohol-related visits to A&E departments or GP visits, psychiatric admissions and alcohol treatment services.[ii]

If the Government is committed to a HiAP approach, and indeed the Healthy Ireland framework, it must ensure that alcohol is taxed at a level that reflects its cost to society and that enables us to lower our high levels of consumption and reduce alcohol harm, which are the aims of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill – a key part of the framework.

 

References

[i] Healthy Ireland: A Framework for Improved Health and Wellbeing 2013 – 2025. Department of Health; 2013.

[ii] Mongan D, Long J. Alcohol in Ireland: consumption, harm, cost and policy response. Health Research Board; 2016.