Alcohol Action Ireland, the national charity for alcohol-related issues, has welcomed the Government’s announcement of the measures to be included in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.
“The evidence regarding the need to tackle alcohol-related harm is overwhelming and reports have been mounting for years now without anything happening in terms of a national strategy, so it’s very encouraging to finally see this Government take decisive action to tackle what is a major public health issue,” said Suzanne Costello, CEO of Alcohol Action Ireland.
“Alcohol-related harm in Ireland currently claims three lives a day and costs the State €3.7 billion annually, putting a particular strain on our overburdened health services. Alcohol also plays a major role in a wide range of other very serious issues for Irish society, such as crime, suicide and child welfare,” said Ms Costello.
“These measures address the key areas of alcohol-harm reduction, including the pricing, marketing and availability of alcohol, and we hope they represent a blueprint for finally bringing about a positive change in our harmful relationship with alcohol.”
Alcohol Action Ireland said that minimum pricing will be a central plank of the alcohol strategy and has the potential to be a life-saving measure.
“Minimum pricing is a targeted measure, designed to stop strong alcohol being sold at pocket-money prices in the off-trade, particularly supermarkets, which now accounts for 60% of all the alcohol sold in Ireland. These strong and cheap drinks are the alcohol products favoured by the heaviest drinkers among us, who are most at risk of alcohol-related illnesses and death, and our young people, who generally have the least disposable income,” said Ms Costello.
“At our current annual alcohol consumption level of 11.7 litres of pure alcohol per person we are still drinking at very high levels – a bottle of vodka each a week – and experiencing unacceptably high levels of alcohol-related harm, a situation that is exacerbated by our unhealthy drinking patterns, particularly the prevalence of binge drinking. Minimum pricing has the potential to significantly reduce alcohol-related harm in Ireland, resulting in a reduction of both the number of lives lost due to alcohol in Ireland and the major burden that alcohol currently places on our health service.”
Alcohol Action Ireland said that the announcement that the marketing and advertising of alcohol is to be moved from the current system of voluntary codes and placed on a statutory footing, with a number of restrictions to be placed on current marketing and advertising practices by the drinks industry, is also of crucial importance.
“Self regulation of alcohol marketing and advertising has clearly failed and our young people, in particular, are constantly exposed to positive, risk-free images of alcohol and its use. The range of measures announced to address the marketing and advertising of alcohol will go a long way towards helping to protect our young people from these sophisticated and powerful influences on their drinking behaviour and expectations. The challenges around the issue of alcohol sponsorship of sports will be addressed by a high-level working group, chaired by the Department of An Taoiseach, and we are encouraged by the priority given to this key, but complex part of the strategy,” said Ms Costello.
Alcohol Action Ireland also welcomed the Government’s intention to provide for the structural separation of alcohol from other products in retail outlets, the health labelling of alcohol products and the powers to be given to Environmental Health Officer to enforce measures included in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.
“Alcohol misuse is a complex and multi-faceted problem and there is no one single solution to it. The measures announced today are broad ranging, but they are also workable and achievable, and should work to reinforce each other as part of a comprehensive approach to tackling our harmful relationship with alcohol, which will in turn improve the health, well-being and safety of all Irish people,” said Ms Costello.