We know who will carry the burden; we know who will pick up the tab 

  • Post category:Blog

This week is #EuropeanAlcoholAwarenessWeek , and so we are encouraging people to stop and think about the bigger picture when it comes to alcohol 

AAI has in recent months been running a campaign to highlight the consequences of increasing alcohol availability across Irish society. The Sale of Alcohol bill proposes to extend licensing hours of all bars/restaurants from 11.30pm to 12.30am and to facilitate late-night opening of bars to 2.30am and nightclubs to 6am. 

Many public health advocates including the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine, Irish Medical Organisation, the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland plus community groups such as Ballymun Local Drugs and Alcohol Task Force and the Irish Community Action on Alcohol Network are deeply concerned about the implications of increased alcohol availability in areas such as injuries, illnesses, domestic and sexual violence. 

The public health view of the bill is based on a mountain of evidence from other jurisdictions. What there is no evidence of, however, is sensible government planning to take account of the consequences, unintended as they may be.  

 In fact, all of the robust scientific evidence presented appears to be taken with a shrug of the shoulders by policy makers. How do we know there’s no planning? Because AAI and others have asked every which way as to how the government plans to mitigate side effects of the bill. 

The most recent parliamentary question, tabled by Róisín Shortall TD asked specifically what measures were being taken to resource EDs, public transport, local authority cleaning services and any other services that might be affected by the proposed laws. 

The answer was quite astonishing. In essence the Department of Justice said it has no role in resourcing – or planning – for what any other department might incur because of the bill. This contrasts with other jurisdictions such as New Zealand which has legislation that allows for levies to be imposed for the purpose of enabling the Health Ministry to recover costs it incurs in addressing alcohol-related harm. A similar recommendation was made by the Oireachtas Justice Committee in its pre-legislative scrutiny of the bill but this has been met with vociferous protests from the alcohol industry and deafening silence from the Minister for Justice. 

Our campaign has been asking the question – who will carry the burden, who will clean up the mess? We already know – front line workers and ultimately the taxpayer. 

Zero alcohol products 

The Sale of Alcohol bill is just one example of policy incoherence across government when it comes to alcohol: On the one hand the department of health is seeking a reduction in alcohol use but the department of justice is seeking to increase availability. 

Another area of serious concern that is bubbling away currently is the huge proliferation in recent times of the advertising of zero alcohol products in our street scapes, shopping environments and across TV, radio and other media. These ads are cementing our society as an alcogenic one where the entire population has a heightened awareness around drinking, drinking opportunities- and alcohol brands. 

While on first glance, it might appear that zero alcohol ads are a good thing, remember the alcohol industry only started to mass advertise them – and therefore their brand their trademarks, emblems, marketing images and logos – when the Public Health Alcohol Act outlawed the advertising of alcohol in certain areas to protect children from mass marketing.  

Zero alcohol products are to the alcohol industry what vapes were/are to tobacco – a way to maintain and increase profits in the face of tightening regulations of a harmful product. Indeed, craving and desire to drink have been found to increase after the consumption of no and low alcohol drinks in people with alcohol dependency. Further, data shows that heavy drinkers tend to use no and low alcohol drinks on top of their usual alcohol consumption. 

If law and policy does not keep pace and protect people from harmful industry practices, it is we – society, that once again pays the price. 

Anyone who thinks otherwise has been inculcated by the frothy messaging from alcohol brands – and indeed that is the point.  

We should really worry that a survey found that 95% of 10- and 11-year-olds recognised a beer brand – higher than their recognition of leading brands of biscuits, crisps and ice cream 

Commerical determinants of health 

It’s not just children, though, who are being exploited by the pathological system in which commercial actors are increasingly enabled to cause harm and externalise the costs of doing so – it is all of us.  

Because we as taxpayers pick up the tab for the harms caused by alcohol consumption in Ireland – at least €3.7billion annually – and we pay with our health and wellbeing by not fully knowing or understanding that we are being exploited by business interests. 

Exposing the impacts of commercial tactics is growing increasingly important. That’s why AAI has joined the Irish Health Promotion Alliance (IHPA) – a new coalition to highlight the devastating impacts that certain industries have on health. Members include the Irish Heart Foundation, Irish College of General Practitioners, Irish Medical Organisation, Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland, Irish Cancer Society and Alcohol Action Ireland 

We know now from research that just four industries, tobacco, unhealthy foods, fossil fuels, and alcohol are responsible for at least a third of deaths globally per year. Of course, the bottom line for all of these businesses is profit and those profits are dependent on particularly high-risk levels of consumption of their harmful products. It is up to governments to protect people because these industries go to extraordinary lengths to conceal and deflect attention away from their health-harming actions. Now that the tactics of the alcohol industry are understood and widely researched, there is no more room for equivocation – we must call out this industry and ensure that societal health comes before private profit and vested interests. Politicians must hear this message and listen to public health advocates over industry lobbyists. The industry playbook has been exposed. It’s time to rip up the rules and start afresh with a public health playbook at the centre of everything we do. 


What you can do: Let your elected representatives know that you want public interest put ahead of vested interest.

Listen to our latest podcast that discusses the influence of the alcohol industry here