More than 1,000 Irish people have died due to harmful use of alcohol since the Government announced the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill

Alcohol Action Ireland has called on the Government to send out a clear message that we can no longer tolerate our high levels of alcohol harm and make the implementation of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill a priority, one year on from its announcement.

The measures to be included in the Bill were announced on Friday, October 24, 2013, when the Government said it recognised the severe consequences of the misuse of alcohol and that it was determined to take action to address this problem.

“It is encouraging that the Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, has made the implementation of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill one of his priorities and much work has been, and continues to be, done by the Department of Health on this important issue, but the reality is that without full Government support we are unlikely to see definitive action any time soon,” said Suzanne Costello, CEO of Alcohol Action Ireland.

“We know that 88 deaths every month in Ireland are directly attributable to alcohol, so that means some 1,056 lives have been lost to harmful drinking since the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill was first announced one year ago. The evidence in support of public health policy measures to reduce alcohol harm is overwhelming, but we need our Government to show the political will to ensure they are implemented if we are to save lives and improve health and wellbeing in Ireland.

“The lack of action on this critical issue to date is a stark reflection of how we have not only normalised heavy and harmful drinking in Ireland, but we have also normalised the huge costs that come with it, primarily the loss of so many lives and the harms suffered by young and vulnerable members of our society. It’s time our Government sent out a clear message that we can no longer tolerate these levels of harm and took steps to address it.

“The current situation is only set to worsen in the absence of strong public health measures, with Revenue figures indicating that our alcohol consumption is set to increase this year. The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland has warned 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, while treatment centres such as Aiséirí and Coolmine have also warned in recent weeks of the increasing number of women and young people seeking treatment for alcohol problems.”

Ms Costello said the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill offers us an opportunity to finally begin to reduce the many serious harms caused by alcohol in Irish society, particularly if it addresses the three key areas of alcohol-harm reduction – pricing, marketing and availability.

“The introduction of minimum pricing and ensuring the adequate separation of alcohol from other goods in mixed retail outlets are vital if this range of measures is to work. Alcohol has never been as cheap or as widely available as it is now and we need to ensure that it is no longer sold at such very low prices in the off-trade, where bottles of beer cost less than bottles of water, and as if it were just another everyday household item or grocery.

“While these measures will go some way towards addressing the supply of alcohol, we also need to address the demand for it, which is why the proposals surrounding alcohol marketing, including the phasing out of alcohol sponsorship of sports, are so important. These well-resourced advertising and marketing campaigns are powerful influences on beliefs and behaviour around alcohol and our children and young people, in particular, need to be protected from them through legislation, bringing an end to a situation where the alcohol industry has effectively been allowed to self-regulate to the detriment of public health.

“Undoubtedly the proposed measures require careful consideration, but these evidenced based policies are the result of three years of work by the Steering Group on the National Substance Misuse Strategy and they will work to reduce alcohol harm if implemented. We now need our Government to ensure that this happens as a matter of urgency.”