Statement to the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications by Professor Joe Barry

Professor Joe Barry, Public Health Specialist and Board Member of Alcohol Action Ireland:

I would now like to follow on from what Dr Smyth has told you and thank you on my own behalf for affording us the hearing today.

We read with interest the transcripts of your interaction with the three main sporting bodies on the 27th of March. I have played sport myself from my early teens and my undistinguished sporting career ended with about 5 years playing in an over 35s Soccer league. I continue to enjoy watching and attending all codes and agree that sporting organisations have a very important part to play in this country. I was therefore saddened to read what the heads of the IRFU, FAI and GAA said to you.

Alcohol marketing and advertising does work and it influences young people’s alcohol beliefs and behaviour. The alcohol companies would not spend so much on marketing and advertising if it did not work. We have much evidence that young people exposed to alcohol branding begin drinking at an earlier age and that can lead to dependence in adulthood.

A study commissioned by the Department of health in 2001 showed that alcohol advertisements were the favourite ads among children. In the US in 2006 it was shown that young people who watched more alcohol ads on television were more likely to have ever drunk beer. In both Australia and New Zealand sportspeople exposed to alcohol sport sponsorship had higher drinking scores.

Across Europe it has been demonstrated that youth exposure to alcohol marketing is associated with the likelihood that adolescents will start to drink alcohol, and will increase their drinking if already started. Most recently, a study funded by the 7th framework programme of the European Commission and carried out among 6500 children aged 13 to 15 showed an association between exposure to alcohol sports sponsorship and increased drinking in these schoolchildren.

To re-iterate, the sporting bodies and the alcohol industry are incorrect when they state that there is no evidence that sports sponsorship by drinks companies influences children-and that is what they are- to drink.

The measures we are hoping will be brought in in relation to breaking the link between sporting bodies and alcohol marketing are a crucial part of our response as a country. We have a big drinking problem in this country and many of our young people are storing up trouble for themselves and their families in the future. Sport is a very important part of our culture and long may it remain so-but let it not be dependent on alcohol money as now seems to be the case.

I would like to end with an appeal to you all. You are our legislators. Only you can implement some of the recommendations being sought. Self regulation does not work as we have seen to our cost in other areas of public life. I am happy to elaborate on any of these points or answer any questions. Thank you for your attention.