Drinks industry puts profit before public health

Alcohol Action Ireland, the national charity for alcohol-related issues, has said that a statement issued today (Wednesday) on behalf of ’Drinks Industry Leaders’ is merely the latest in a series of attempts by the alcohol industry to influence the policy agenda in ways that favour their business interests at the expense of the health of the Irish people.

“The call today for a ’collaborative approach’ by the alcohol industry is its latest attempt to seek a role for itself in policy areas which extend far beyond their responsibilities as producers and retailers of alcohol and in which they have absolutely no expertise,” said Suzanne Costello, CEO of Alcohol Action Ireland.

“They are seeking this role because it would provide an opportunity for them to influence the policy agenda in ways that favour their business interests at the expense of the public health interest. The objective of the alcohol industry is to maximise its profits through the sale of its products and they are legally entitled to do so. However, the Government has a responsibility to prioritise the health of the Irish people and the conflicting interests of private profit and public health cannot be reconciled when it comes to addressing our harmful relationship with alcohol.”

Alcohol Action Ireland pointed out that although the statement by ’Drinks Industry Leaders’ called for ’evidence-based solutions’, the alcohol industry continues to ignore the evidence regarding alcohol misuse in Ireland and to lobby vigorously behind-the-scenes against the evidence-based measures proposed to reduce our high levels of alcohol-related harm contained in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.

“Two alcohol industry bodies were represented on the Steering Group for the National Substance Misuse Strategy, where they continuously voiced their opposition to the evidence-based recommendations concerning the pricing, marketing and availability of alcohol – measures which international evidence demonstrates will be effective in reducing alcohol-related harm in Ireland,” said Ms Costello.

“The alcohol industry, despite its rhetoric, has consistently shown through its actions that it remains strongly opposed to the introduction of statutory regulation, seeking instead to retain the existing systems of self-regulation, which have proven to be wholly ineffective with regard to public health, particularly the protection of children and the vulnerable.”

Ms Costello said that the latest alcohol industry statement provided further evidence that the industry has absolutely no role to play in formulating Government policy.

“The alcohol industry continually refers to the “minority” who misuse alcohol in Ireland. This unfounded assertion doesn’t just completely contradict the well-documented evidence which shows that the majority of Irish people who drink do so in a hazardous manner – seven out of ten men and four out of ten women exceed their low-risk weekly limit – but also the daily reality for the people of Ireland. They also claim that the increases in excise duty have ’done little to effect societal change’, completely ignoring the fact that the welcome reduction in alcohol consumption last year followed directly on from substantial excise duty increases in December 2012, which saw the tax on beer, cider and spirits increase by 10% and €1 added to the duty on a bottle of wine,” said Ms Costello.

“Indeed last year’s increase in the price, and subsequent reduction in the consumption, of alcohol is similar to that observed in 2003 when excise duty on spirits was subject to a significant increase, leading to a fall of 20% in spirits consumption and the first overall fall in alcohol consumption in Ireland in 16 years. However, in 2010, when excise on all alcohol products was cut by about 20%, we saw a rise in alcohol consumption. It’s clear therefore that the price of alcohol matters and tackling pricing is one of the most effective ways a Government can reduce alcohol consumption, along with measures targeting the availability and marketing of alcohol.

“Even though the reduction in our per capita alcohol consumption is a welcome one, we cannot afford to be complacent. Our levels of alcohol harm in Ireland are still unacceptably high, with the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland warning this week that liver disease rates are on course to quadruple in Ireland between 1995 and 2015, with the greatest level of increase among 15-to-34-year-olds. Our Government and all those genuinely concerned with reducing alcohol-related harm in Ireland must therefore resist the pressure the alcohol industry will continue to exert in relation to the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill and other measures that will reduce this harm.”