Irish tourism should not be allowed to serve as a smokescreen for the campaign for cheaper alcohol

Irish tourism has been placed at the centre of the alcohol industry’s campaign for cheaper alcohol in an attempt to mask the hugely damaging impact an excise duty cut would have on our health and wellbeing, according to Alcohol Action Ireland, the national charity for alcohol-related issues.

“The success of Irish tourism is effectively being used as a smokescreen by the alcohol industry which is trying to force through an excise duty cut on the grounds that it is key to our tourism offering and our economy. The reality is that this campaign is about selling alcohol and the cheaper it is, the more of it will be sold, with hugely damaging consequences for health and wellbeing in Ireland,” said Suzanne Costello, CEO of Alcohol Action Ireland.

“Tourism does not depend on the availability of cheap alcohol and is not impacted negatively by increases in excise duty. Those who claim otherwise have absolutely no evidence to support these claims. In fact, during the two most recent years when excise duty was increased, 2013 and 2014, the number of overseas visitors to Ireland increased by one million, reaching record numbers in the first half of this year, as Irish tourism continues to go from strength to strength, boosted by excellent initiatives such as the Wild Atlantic Way.

“While the alcohol industry is keen to emphasise the pub and its role in tourism, the inconvenient truth it is failing to mention is that a cut in excise duty would make the very cheapest alcohol on sale in the off-trade, particularly supermarkets, even cheaper too. Therefore, it would also serve to increase the risks for those vulnerable groups, including young people, who favour the strongest, cheapest alcohol, as well all those in society impacted by alcohol-related harm.

“Although excise duty increased in 2013 and 2014, during 18 of the last 26 Budgets in Ireland there was either no change in excise duty or a decrease in rates, meaning that the rates of excise duty in Ireland have declined significantly in real terms in recent decades. If you are an 18-year-old in Ireland today, the excise duty on beer has increased just twice, and been cut once, during your lifetime. Sadly, if you’re an 18-year-old in Ireland today, you’re also part of the age cohort (18 to 24-year-olds) with the highest rates of binge drinking and dependent drinking,” said Ms Costello.

“Ireland has one of the highest levels of both alcohol consumption and binge drinking in the world. Our harmful drinking has a huge impact on our nation’s physical and mental health, as well as causing serious harm to those other than the individual drinker, with alcohol misuse a key driver of public order, crime and child welfare issues, among a wide range of other societal harms. From a purely economic perspective, our current level of alcohol taxation in Ireland, including both excise duty and VAT, falls €1.6 billion below covering its €3.7 billion cost to society and that substantial tab is picked up by the taxpayer.

“The increase in alcohol affordability that a cut in excise duty would bring represents a threat not just to the health of individuals, but to our society and our economy, particularly at a time when our alcohol consumption increased last year, to 11 litres of pure alcohol per capita, and our personal expenditure on alcohol increased to €6.5 billion.”