Alcohol Action Ireland calls on Government to put the health of children first and not to pass the alcohol industry’s self-regulatory codes into law

Alcohol Action Ireland has told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children that it will be spurning the opportunity to make a significant difference to the health and wellbeing of future generations of Irish people if it fails to tackle alcohol marketing and advertising, including alcohol sponsorship of sport, as part of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.

Suzanne Costello, CEO of Alcohol Action Ireland, said: “Due to the ongoing failure to introduce effective regulations and legislation governing this area, the alcohol industry has effectively become Irish children and young people’s primary educator on alcohol. Therefore, proposals to place existing voluntary codes governing alcohol advertising and alcohol sponsorship of sport on a statutory footing through this Bill are deeply concerning.”

“Every day, in many different ways and through many different channels – whether it’s social media, TV, billboards, sports sponsorship, product placement in films or music videos – Irish children are continuously exposed to positive, risk-free images of alcohol and its use. These all work to reinforce one another and are sophisticated and powerful influences on children’s drinking expectations and behaviour. Ultimately, they all work together to sell more alcohol,” said Ms Costello.

“Sponsorship of sporting events by alcohol brands is a particularly potent form of sales promotion and comprehensive evidence shows that children are not only exposed to a large amount of alcohol promotion through sports sponsorship, but that their beliefs and behaviour in relation to alcohol are influenced by the alignment of alcohol brands with their sporting heroes and everything they represent.”

Ms Costello told the Committee that, to date, the regulation of the promotion of alcohol has been structured and undertaken by the alcohol industry itself, mainly through voluntary codes of practice: “The alcohol industry writes the rules it sees fit to adhere to and decides whether they are being obeyed or not. Like most systems of self-regulation in Ireland, the alcohol industry’s codes have proven to be wholly ineffective and has done nothing to protect the young and vulnerable members of our society from alcohol harm.”

“In my view, self-regulation is no regulation. We did not allow the tobacco industry to regulate itself and the robust legislation put in place by Government in relation to tobacco, including marketing, advertising and sponsorship, have seen the number of Irish children taking up smoking fall significantly,” said Ms Costello.

“If this Government fails to act to phase out alcohol sponsorship of sport and allows the existing self-regulatory codes governing marketing and advertising to pass, unexamined by independent experts in public health, onto the Statute books, then it will have allowed the alcohol industry to write the law that governs alcohol marketing and advertising in Ireland and spurned the opportunity to make a significant difference to the health and wellbeing of future generations of Irish people.”

Professor Joe Barry, board member of Alcohol Action Ireland, welcomed the proposed introduction of labelling and health warnings on alcohol products, and said that minimum unit pricing is a key measure in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.

“This is a proven, effective measure with gains in the short term. This measure is aimed at two groups of vulnerable drinkers – very young drinkers who can buy drinks, particularly beer, at pocket money prices and dependent drinkers, for whom any cheap alcohol is very attractive. The benefits in the short term include reductions in mortality, reductions in crime, a positive impact on the direct costs to healthcare services and a reduction in workplace absence,” said Professor Barry.

“It has been claimed that this strategy is an attack on the poor. That is not the case. It is an attempt, based on evidence, to provide support to vulnerable drinkers to reduce their drinking regardless of their economic circumstances. I am the chairperson of the North Inner City Local Drugs Task Force and we are of the view that drinking patterns in the North Inner City, one of the most deprived parts of the country, is at a serious level, with a proliferation of off-licences selling cheap drink. Minimum unit pricing will be extremely beneficial to the health and social wellbeing of this community and many families and communities across our country.”