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Legislation can be ‘tipping point for major cultural change’

13 Jan 2016


Pic: Getty Images

Dear Editor,

The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill is a crucial response to one of our most significant public health problems. Alcohol misuse claims three lives every day in Ireland and we all know someone who has been affected in a harmful way by alcohol use — it is all too common.

The harm caused by our alcohol consumption extends far beyond the individual who is drinking, to impact on children, families and communities throughout Ireland. Alcohol places a huge burden on our health services and costs the State an estimated €3.7 billion per year. It is also a major contributory factor to serious issues such as road safety, crime, self-harm, suicide, domestic violence, and child welfare.

The Bill contains positive and critical actions to reduce alcohol harm and improve our health, safety and well-being. Most importantly, evidence shows that this legislation and its inclusion of three key areas — alcohol pricing, marketing and availability — can save lives. Despite this, we know the Bill will come under sustained attack from the alcohol industry.

This is because we cannot reduce alcohol harm without reducing our high levels of consumption, which the alcohol industry continuously seeks to increase. Our alcohol consumption, which increased last year, is now two litres of pure alcohol per person above the Healthy Ireland target (and OECD average) of 9.1 litres per capita and we have one of the highest rates of binge drinking in the world.

The World Health Organization has stated that “the alcohol industry has no role in the formulation of alcohol policies, which must be protected from distortion by commercial or vested interests”.

The position of the HSE is that “there is an inherent conflict associated with the alcohol industry playing a role in providing public health advice”.

The Bill contains a wide range of measures that protect Irish children and reduce harmful drinking. One of its key measures, minimum unit pricing (MUP), has already been distorted and cast as a measure that will affect all drinkers. In fact, it is a targeted measure that will affect only the strongest, cheapest drink in the off-trade, which is consumed mainly by the youngest and most harmful drinkers.

MUP will have absolutely no impact on the price of a pint, or any alcohol sold in pubs, clubs or restaurants. When introduced in Canada, it led to an immediate reduction in deaths due to alcohol, as well as reducing the burden of alcohol-related hospital admissions and alcohol-fuelled crime.

Ireland has led the way in public health before and paved the way for the smoking ban. We urge everyone to support this Bill so that it can be the tipping point for major cultural change in Ireland’s harmful drinking habits. It will be life-changing for future and present generations and reduce the harm and deaths caused by alcohol, and the suffering and grief borne by far too many Irish men, women and children as a result.

Prof Frank Murray, President, RCPI; Suzanne Costello, Alcohol Action Ireland; Kathleen O’Meara, Irish Cancer Society; Mary Cunningham, National Youth Council of Ireland; Barry Dempsey, Irish Heart Foundation; Grainia Long, ISPCC; Tanya Ward, Children’s Rights Alliance; Dr Cate Hartigan, Head of Health Promotion, HSE; Drugs.ie; Kieran Doherty, Alcohol Forum; Senator Jillian van Turnhout; Dr Mark Delargy, National Rehabilitation Hospital; Dr Shari McDaid, Mental Health Reform; Rachel Wright, Samaritans; Rolande Anderson, Addiction Counsellor; Dr Donal O’Shea, Consultant Endocrinologist; Dr Ray Walley, President, IMO; Dr Orla Crosbie, Consultant Hepatologist; Dr John Hillery, College of Psychiatrists of Ireland; Dr Anne Twomey, Irish Dental Association; Triona Ni Rainne, Galway Healthy Cities Alcohol Forum; Michelle Murphy, Social Justice Ireland; Dr Hugh Gallagher, Addiction Services, HSE; Cliona Saidlier, Rape Crisis Network; Jacqueline Healy, National Women’s Council of Ireland; Grainne Fleming, No Name Club; Frances Black, The Rise Foundation; Senator Lorraine Higgins, Chair, Oireachtas Cross Party Group on Alcohol Harm; Siobhan Kelly, Irish College of Ophthalmologists; Etain Kett, Dental Health Foundation; Megan O’Leary, Family Support Network; John Bennett, Finglas/Cabra Local Drug and Alcohol Taskforce.

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Click here to view the full article which appeared in Irish Medical Times: Opinion