National study to put our drink habits in the spotlight

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From the Irish Examiner

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Government is to undertake a major study of how much alcohol we consume, how often we go to the pub, and who we drink with as it prepares to consider measures, including minimum pricing, to tackle alcohol misuse.

By Juno McEnroe
Political Correspondent

The Irish Examiner has learned that a package of proposals to help tackle alcohol misuse will be brought before the Cabinet next month.

This will include a final decision on legislation on minimum pricing and whether or not a “social responsibility levy” should be put on the drinks industry.

Ministers will also decide on whether to phase out drinks industry sponsorship of sport and large public events and if there should be a 9pm watershed on broadcasting alcohol advertising.

As part of the study, the drinking habits of 5,000 people aged between 18 and 75 will be surveyed in face-to-face interviews for the Health Research Board. An average benchmark for a national survey would normally be 1,000 people.

Harm experienced while drinking and the weekly consumption of alcohol in households will be among the areas surveyed.

The board says such a survey is needed “in order to calculate a minimum unit price per gram of alcohol”.

Information from households will include estimates on the amount of alcohol drank by people at dependent, harmful, hazardous, and low-risk levels. The data will also be broken down by gender, age groups, and employment status.

The national survey on drinking habits will examine the frequency of people’s consumption of alcohol, their number of drinking occasions, and the type of alcohol consumed.

Adults will also be asked about “risky single occasion drinking”, the days they drink, and where the alcohol is consumed.

Drinking companions, the issue of exceeding drinking limits, and the price of the alcohol consumed will also form part of the survey, which promises to safeguard the privacy of respondents.

The action plan for minimum pricing levels is based on a government expert group which sat for three years before publishing its report a year ago.

The plan was initially supposed to go to Cabinet last summer and again in September. Since November, the Government has been saying it will go before the Cabinet soon.

Despite calls last week during alcohol awareness week for a levy on the drinks industry to combat the effects of harmful drinking, Health Minister James Reilly has said he is not in favour of such a charge.

Campaign groups say €3.7bn is spent every year in Ireland on treating alcohol-related illnesses.

Dr Reilly said last week that he supported proposals for minimum pricing for alcohol, plans for which will be brought to ministers in April. A number of ministers, though, are believed to oppose such a move.