Soaring alcohol sales demands better protection for children this Christmas

Reflecting on the latest round of trade data on off-trade alcohol sales, Alcohol Action – the national independent advocate for reducing alcohol harm, today (Thursday, 16th Dec) urged everyone who drinks to re-think the harm persistent use of alcohol has on their health and the impact so much alcohol in our homes has on our children’s lives.

The latest round of trade data indicates a continuing surge in off-trade alcohol sales, with Kantar indicating a 33% increase, year-on-year, in alcohol sales for November, while Nielsen reaffirms this worrying trend with year-on-year data for a 12-week period, ending 22 November, indicating a 27% increase.

This extraordinary spike comes after earlier months throughout our shared experience with COVID, and varying degrees of lockdown, when alcohol sales have soared.

Despite the pubs largely having been closed for nine months, our collective use of alcohol has only fallen by a little over 4%.

Alcohol Action is urging people to be mindful of their drinking patterns, and to step back from temporary lifestyle changes that can very quickly become permanent habits.

Christmas should be a time when children have our greatest focus and not the urge to buy the latest reckless supermarket alcohol discount.

Research highlights that children’s anxiety for their parent’s safety is greatly enhanced when experiencing alcohol use; what may seem like normal behaviour causes them the greatest concern.

Avoid giving children alcohol, even in the smallest of measures – alcohol is not a normal commodity and children introduced to alcohol by their parents often go on to drink in even greater volumes. Children who initiate alcohol early are also likely to become the binge drinkers of tomorrow.

Commenting on these matters, Eunan McKinney, Head of Communications, said:

“We recognise that everyone has had a very difficult 2020, but we would urge people to do three things this Christmas; remember, there is no comfort to be found in frequent and risky alcohol use. We strongly urge all parents and guardians to be extra careful this Christmas, as so much alcohol has been poured into our homes already this year. And finally, be clear about what it is to drink within the health advice of low-risk guidelines; avoid free-flowing alcohol and know what is a standard measure.”

2020 has seen some progress in the implementation of the Public Health Alcohol Act, with structural separation of alcohol and the process of denormalising alcohol as an everyday grocery becoming evident. Retailers were afforded a two-year transition period on the operation of this law but compliance has been unacceptably slow.

In January, we will see further progress with the commencement of the sale and supply regulations which, amongst other matters, will end the awarding of bonus/loyalty points for alcohol purchases. However, there has been no progress on implementing the crucial measure of minimum pricing, which would end the reckless price discounting, and the exceptional affordability, of alcohol so prevalent throughout the retail landscape.

Commenting on recent developments, Prof. Frank Murray, Chair of Alcohol Health Alliance Ireland said:

“The failure of our government to implement legislation, passed by the Oireachtas, has become deeply frustrating for those of us who have advocated for a public health led approach to our societal problem with alcohol. Throughout the COVID crisis we have seen the value of scarce hospital resources, particularly ICU capacity, yet we continue to accept that alcohol related harm commands 11% of our health expenditure and nearly 20% of our ICU capacity.

Ongoing research from Scotland has demonstrated throughout 2020 the efficacy of Minimum unit pricing in both reducing alcohol use and saving lives. We cannot continue to allow the retail operators, dominated by three or four players, to endanger the futures of our people in an irresponsible alcohol price-discounting war that is driving unprecedented levels of alcohol sales.

We call for the urgent and immediate implementation of minimum pricing of alcohol as passed by the Oireachtas. Each day delayed is worsening harm to drinkers and their families, as well as broader society.”