Election 2011: Save 30 lives a month; reduce overnight hospital admissions by 600 a day and save the exchequer €1 billion a year — so what’s the problem?

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With election excitement gripping the country, Alcohol Action Ireland is calling on all candidates to save lives by making alcohol a top priority in their election campaigns.

So far on the campaign trail, there has been little mention of any evidence-based polices that will reduce alcohol consumption and in turn alcohol-related harm.

Alcohol Action Ireland has asked election candidates to consider initiatives that would save 30 lives a month; reduce overnight hospital admissions by 600 a day and save the exchequer €1 billion a year. All this can be achieved through a 30% reduction in alcohol-related harm – the same level of harm reduction that has been achieved in road safety.

“It is time to stop turning a blind eye to the alcohol problem or accepting it as an inevitability of being Irish. It is time to look at the evidence of how alcohol is really affecting Irish individuals, families and society as a whole. It is time for us to take action.” Dr. Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer of Ireland

So what have each of the political parties promised in relation to alcohol-harm reduction in their election campaigns so far?

Fine Gael
  • Ban the practice of below cost selling on alcohol, particularly by large supermarkets
  • Publish a National Addiction Strategy that deals with both drugs and alcohol addiction
  • Legislate for the introduction of mandatory alcohol testing at the scene of an accident very shortly after entering government
  • Require all local and regional drugs taskforces to offer training and information to teachers and schools and liaise with local HSE Drug Education Workers to support schools in a dedicated Alcohol and Drug Awareness Programme
  • Taxation on “import intensive” consumption: 25c on cigarettes and €1 on bottle of wine by 2014
  • In favour of extending the opening hours of pubs and nightclubs, including the 1am closing time for clubs on Sunday nights (The Irish Star, February 15)
  • Tackle both drugs supply and demand through a revitalised National Drugs Strategy
  • Integrate drug and alcohol strategies at local level
  • Further restrict the sales of alcohol to under-age persons, notably in off-licence outlets
  • Work at EU level to develop a Europe-wide agreement to phase out or substantially reduce alcohol-related sponsorship of sports events
  • Extend pub and nightclub opening hours. Justice spokesman Pat Rabitte TD in favour of staggered opening hours of pubs and nightclubs from between 1am to 4am, depending on details such as their location and access to public transport (The Irish Star, February 15)
Fianna Fail
  • Introduce health advice warnings on all alcohol containers/bottles
  • Ban alcohol advertising near schools and colleges
Sinn Fein
  • Address the large number of alcohol outlets by imposing further restrictions on them and giving more power to Joint Policing Committees and local authorities to decide on location and opening hours

In reality, the majority of the above measures, if implemented, do not go far enough. Today, alcohol-related harm costs the Irish economy €3.7 billion a year: €1.2 billion in health costs – around 10% of the health budget; €1.2 billion in crime costs;   €330million in work place absenteeism and loss of productivity; this amounts to €3,318 for every tax payer per year.

There are real savings to be made not just to the economy but to people’s lives.   Behind every statistic is a real person with a real story, the loss of a loved one or the loss of a childhood.

In Ireland, alcohol is responsible for: one death every seven hours; 2,000 hospital beds occupied every night in hospitals around the country; 30% of emergency department attendances; 7% of GP consultations; one in six cases of reported child abuse is alcohol-related. We are asking each of the political parties to remember these facts.

Alcohol Action Ireland is calling for three key actions to reduce alcohol-related harm:

  • introduce minimum pricing – a floor price beneath which alcohol cannot be sold
  • an end to ‘light touch’ regulation
  • restore slashed excise duty levels