Drinks industry takes me on…

Posted in Blog by saraburke on March 5, 2010

The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI) took umbrage with the rado slot I did a few weeks when I was exasperated that the DRINKS industry were on the new government’s own DRUGS strategy steering group. So yesterday I did my health slot with Rosemary Garth of Alcohol Beverage Federation in IReland (ABFI). So you can read my previous thoughts on them here and new ones below or listen back hereJust to remind you – as a nation our alcohol consumption declined between 2001 and 2003 and then leveled off after 2004 but only very slightly AND most significantly we still have the highest alcohol consumption of 22 countries as measured by the OECD in their figures for 2009. Our total alcohol intake declined from 14.2 litres per head per annum to 13.4 litres in 2007 (the most recent year that comparative figures are available) but this measure of consumption is judged by revenue and therefore importantly it does not take into account cross border booze purchasing. Also we drink most in the most damaging way – we are in fact a nation of bingers. A binge is defined as five or more drinks in one sitting. Plus the impact on the public health and public purse is clear. The 2004 Alcohol Task Force cost the harm of alcohol €2.65 billion.

A brief reminder of the evidence of the health impact of alcohol (not to mind the day to day impact seen in our courts)

  • alcohol related deaths doubled between 1995 and 2004
  • at least 1 in 4 Emergency Department’s admissions are alcohol related
  • there is a direct relationship between alcohol intake, injuries and chronic diseases
  • Injuries for men are evident in violent assaults and in women in high numbers of sexual assaults
  • direct relationship between alcohol intake and those presenting with liver disease, when intake goes up so do those presenting with liver disease
  • there is a direct relationship between volume and harm
  • not to mention the huge psychological and mental health impacts.

We have highest tolerance of public drunkenness. And while our taxes are high, some alcohol prices are still low eg discount shopping you can buy wine for €4 and trays of beers for half nothing well reflected in the high levels of home drinking. Also availability has increased not decreased – much wider availability in shops, supermarkets, café bars.

Marketing, advertising and communication codes may be strict according to ABFI but they are voluntary – just like light regulation of banks, church and child abuse, doctors, lawyers  etc… does anyone believe in self regulation anymore? Ireland surely is a live example what happens when banks self regulate  – no regulation or light regulation at best?

Would we let drinks industry set the drink driving limit? Tobacco companies decide safe levels of nicotine?Pharmaceutical companies decide whether a drug is safe?

So who’s interests are at stake – the public good or profit company shareholders? The Health Oireachtas committee made a recommendation 5 years ago that all alcohol advertising should be banned. Yet this has never received political or policy traction.

So why on earth would you include alcohol industry in a national drugs strategy that is about public health and the public interest? There has been a distinct failure of Department of Health to act on this issue – there has been no legislation on alcohol apart from drink driving or taxing but none of these come from the Department of Health. As long as the drinks industry and the Department of Health remain on the same side, we will never tackle the harmful effects of alcohol that permeate most Irish households in some form or other.


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