Let’s raise a glass to our drunkenness

  • Post category:News

So, did you enjoy your Arthur’s Day, then?

Did the young ones get home in one piece?

Did they make it into work or school last Friday morning? Did you?

Come to think of it, you have to hand it to the marketers who came up with the Arthur’s Day concept – and then managed to paste it all over every newspaper, television screen and radio programme, as well as across Facebook, Twitter and the internet in general.

Everywhere you turned in real or virtual life these past few days, there was nothing but guff about Arthur.

The major TV commercial was a brilliant concept.

There was the whole world paying homage to Ireland’s greatest-ever son, the diminutive brewer from Thomas Street.

And sure, aren’t the Paddies famous worldwide for the drink anyway? And here was one of the secrets of their global fame and reputation.

How brilliant to turn our global reputation as drunks on its head and use it for an international marketing campaign.

Every September, all the new advertising budgets are cranked up, and some of Ireland’s leading sports stars – complete with rugby ball, football and hurley – get involved in another promotional drive about pacing yourself while drinking.

”As athletes, we have to learn to pace ourselves on the pitch,” said rugby player Shane Horgan, who appeared in such a promotion.

”I think Diageo’s campaign is on the ball; it reminds us that the same principles apply to a night out. It’s equally important when we are out for a night that we pace our drinking.”

Diageo’s marketing success is only part of a range of hugely effective and original alcohol marketing strategies in Ireland – by all the brands.

Their overwhelming success cannot be denied if you look at survey after survey. Significantly, these surveys have not been carried out by anybody associated with the alcohol industry.

In a recent public address, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan gave us a comprehensive look at all of these surveys.

According to Holohan, we are now the third-highest consumers of alcohol in the world, and our teenagers and young adults drink more in total – and more per occasion – than young people in any other country in Europe. So that’s a world bronze medal and a European gold so far.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that excessive alcohol consumption is the third-most significant factor for disease, and has been recognised as significantly increasing the risk of mouth, oesophagus, breast, colon, liver and pancreatic cancer.

In Ireland, according to Holohan, alcohol – through liver disease, road traffic accidents and cancers – is responsible for 100 deaths a month, 2,000 hospital beds occupied every night, three out of every ten emergency department attendances and 7 per cent of all GP consultations.

In young people, in particular, one in four deaths of young men (aged 15 to 34) is due to alcohol, compared with one in 12 due to cancer or one in 25 due to circulatory disease.

Alcohol kills four times as many people as all the other drugs (legal and illegal) combined.

Holohan said our suicide rate had doubled over the past 20 years – at over 500 a year, it is twice the road death figure. Incidentally, the vast increase in alcohol consumption has also occurred over the last 20 years.

He said that alcohol was responsible for half of all young male suicides.

”We must now say that we will no longer accept the burden that alcohol is placing on our families, our society, our health and our lives,” Holohan said. ”And we must act now.”

Given that we are facing into a budget promising savage cuts, perhaps the bill for alcohol on our health service is worth calculating.

Again, according to the statistics, alcohol is responsible for 10 per cent of all general inpatient costs,14 per cent of psychiatric hospital costs, 7 per cent of GP costs and up to 30 per cent of emergency department costs.

The total for 2007 was €1.2 billion.

Astonishingly, that’s about 12 per cent of our total health budget.

If anything, given the annual increase in alcohol consumption, the bills for recent years will be even higher.

The losses in economic productivity and work absence in 2007 were estimated to have cost the economy €330 million.

Last week, another report from the WHO featured an astounding statistic about Ireland – that we had the highest rate per head of population of young male homicide rates in western Europe. In this survey, the geographical area extended beyond the EU as far as Russia.

The survey calculated that alcohol was a significant factor in over 40 per cent of homicides.

In response to the growing public concern about drinking levels, the alcohol industry itself has even become a player in the responsible drinking campaign.

The Meas campaign for the ”mature enjoyment of alcohol in society” and others have emerged. It’s hard not to conceive of the Meas slogan, ‘Enjoy drink responsibly’, as anything other than a subtle form of alcohol advertising in itself.

The primary message links drink and enjoyment.

Meas is funded by the alcohol industry itself – the very same industry that has funded and created our all-pervasive drinking culture.

The alcohol industry, on one hand, spends millions of euro creating a marketing context that permeates our lives and promotes alcohol at entertainment and sporting events while, on the other hand, it insists that this approach is not responsible for our levels of alcohol abuse.

This is utterly disingenuous. It is impossible to ignore the cynicism implicit in these campaigns.

Last year, the government set up a national substance misuse steering group to develop a strategy to reduce alcohol-related harm, and bring it into line with the wider drugs strategy.

One hopes one of its first findings will be to stymie the marketing ambitions of those whose aims seem to be to elevate Arthur’s Day to something approaching a secular St Patrick’s Day (already an excuse for a booze-up) or national holiday.

We are the drunks of Europe, and the drinking culture that the alcohol marketing industry promotes is a national disgrace.

Source: The Sunday Business Post, 26/09/10
Journalist: Tom McGurk