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COMMENT: Alcohol Bill will protect children

Monday, 16th October, 2017 7:59am
COMMENT: Alcohol Bill will protect children

Comment: Eunan McKinney

COMMENT: Alcohol Bill will protect children

Comment: Eunan McKinney

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FOR over 650 days, the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill – a progressive piece of legislation designed to significantly and positively alter Ireland’s harmful relationship with alcohol – has languished in the Oireachtas, hindered by the powerful alcohol industry’s lobbyists.

 The Bill contains a range of modest measures on price, labelling, advertising and separation of alcohol products, designed to work together to reduce alcohol consumption in Ireland, so lessening alcohol related harm. Given time, it will protect children, families and communities from alcohol related harms and create an environment that supports a low-risk approach to individual consumption.

 Central to this cultural shift will be to ‘de-normalise’ the ubiquitous presence of alcohol. This is why the content of advertising is to be modified; why the intrusive visibility of alcohol in-store is to be restricted; and why the free distribution of alcohol is to be curtailed.

Regrettably, the Bill makes no regulation on alcohol sponsorship of sport – a battle lost as far back as 2013!

 Alcohol consumption in Ireland has grown threefold in two generations. In 2016, our consumption of alcohol rose by a further 4.8 per cent to 11.46 litres of pure alcohol per capita.

The target of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, when first announced, was to reduce our overall consumption to 9.1 litres; that is a 3.5 per cent reduction per annum for seven years (2020), which is hardly the ‘sledgehammer’ of a nanny state.

 Today, we face a growing chronic illness crisis as cancer, heart disease, liver disease and diabetes now account for most of our ill-health and premature deaths - every day, three people will die from alcohol related illnesses. This crisis places an extraordinary, and unnecessary, burden on our scarce health services and limited public resources. 

 The annual cost of alcohol related hospital discharges to the Irish exchequer is €1.5bn, which is three per cent of all public current expenditure. The figure is €2.35bn when assessing a wider set of cost implications in other aspects of impact to current public expenditure in justice, children and social protection.

Meanwhile, the crisis in our A&Es grows worse as hard-working doctors and nurses grapple with the nightly carnage caused by alcohol.

 Alcohol contributes to the development of mental health problems as well as exacerbating pre-existing mental health difficulties. It affects our ability to cope, manage and to overcome everyday stresses and significant life events. Tragically, alcohol is a factor in half of all suicides and one third of self-harm cases in Ireland.

 The market will not resolve our problem with alcohol. Each year, 60,000 children will inexcusably begin their all-too-early drinking careers. 

 Where the interests of private economic forces collide with advancing public health concerns, we must be able to rebalance those rights to allow for pragmatic public intervention.

Eunan McKinney is Head of Communications and Advocacy at Alcohol Action Ireland.

Many Irish people have a dysfunctional relationship with alcohol.         PHOTO: BIG STOCK

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