Alcohol action plan set to come before Cabinet


By the time the plan is brought to Cabinet, it will be three years since a government-appointed expert group first met to draw up a national alcohol strategy.

Speaking at a conference on alcohol, the new junior health minister, Alex White, said the issue of ending sports sponsorship – opposed by several ministers and departments – was not “a stumbling block”.

Marketing lecturer Pat Kenny told the conference sponsorship was not “a type of philanthropy” by the alcohol industry, but was part of sophisticated marketing strategies to “normalise alcohol consumption”.

The conference, organised by Alcohol Action Ireland, also heard that the number of deaths as a result of cirrhosis of the liver, directly due to alcohol abuse, had doubled between 1996 and 2010.

Prof Frank Murray, chairman of the Royal College of Physicians’ alcohol policy group, said patients with drink-induced cirrhosis – who have a life expectancy of just over a year if they continue drinking – were getting younger and that more women were presenting.

In his first public address outside the Oireachtas, Mr White stated that the action plan, based on the report of the National Substance Misuse Strategy steering group, would go to the Government “within weeks”.

The group made a list of recommendations, including the introduction of minimum pricing, the phasing out of sponsorship, bans on advertising, and restrictions on sales of alcohol.

Mr White said nobody could deny the “truth about the misuse of alcohol” and that it warranted policies which would address “this pervasive threat to Irish health”.

Some of the report’s recommendations posed “challenges”, he said, adding that he was observing the litigation taken by the alcohol industry to plans by the Scottish government to introduce minimum pricing.

Speaking afterwards, Mr White said there were no stumbling blocks within Government on sponsorship.

He said he did not yet know when he would be able to publish legislation to implement key actions such as minimum pricing. Nor would he comment on whether the time-frame for the phasing out of sports sponsorship would be pushed back beyond 2016.

Mr Kenny, a lecturer at DIT, said sponsorship of sports and music events was not an act of “philanthropy” by the alcohol industry and that they wanted “something in return”.

He said it was part of integrated marketing plans to engage in a “passionate embrace” with consumers by aligning their brand with sports and music events.

“Marketing, especially sponsorship, normalises alcohol sponsorship,” he said.

“We know as much about alcohol sponsorship as we did about tobacco sponsorship when it was banned.”