Alcohol consumption increases


The amount of alcohol being consumed by Irish adults increased last year for the second year in a row, provisional figures from the Central Statistics Office and Revenue Commissioners show.

Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health, told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health he “just got the provisional figures from the CSO” which showed the average per capita consumption of pure alcohol increased from 11.9 litres in 2010 to 12 litres (11.97 litres) last year.

“That’s against the background of increased affordability of alcohol.”

Dr Holohan was addressing the committee as chairman of the Department’s steering group the National Substance Misuse Strategy, along with Minister of State for primary care, Róisín Shortall. The strategy aims to cut average alcohol consumption to 9.1 litres of alcohol per adult.

The Committee also heard about plans to end home deliveries of alcohol.

The Alcohol and Beverage Federation of Ireland argues alcohol consumption has been declining since the high point of 2006, when the average was 13.4 litres per adult.

Ms Shortall told the Committee she planned to end ’distance sales’ of alcohol, to include the purchase of alcohol on-line from supermarkets, from take-away and off-license delivery services.

“I’ve spoken to the Garda Commissioner in recent months and he’s coming back to me on it. The question is whether we need a change in law or greater enforcement of legislation.”

There was unanimous support from all members of the Committee for the Strategy, which calls for a ban on all sponsorship by drinks companies of sporting and large outdoor events, a ban on all outdoor advertising of alcohol, an increase in excise duties on some alcohol products and the introduction of a minimum price per gram of alcohol.

Chair Jerry Buttimer (Fine Gael) said it was “important our unhealthy relationship with alcohol is faced head on. We must have the courage of our convictions”.

Denis Naughton (Fine Gael) said: “We all accept the huge and damaging impact alcohol is having on Irish families.” He criticised supermarket advertisements this weekend “focusing on special drinks promotions for St Patrick’s Day”.

Asked about plans to commence 2008 legislation to compel supermarkets to segregate alcohol from other groceries, Dr Holohan said the steering group’s wish had been to ban alcohol from being sold in ’mixed trading’ outlets altogether.

“But the pragmatic point of view was to use legislation already in place.”

This, combined with a minimum price per gram of alcohol to end alcohol being sold very cheaply, would have an impact on overall alcohol consumption.

Asked what sort of minimum price the Department was looking at, he said the Scottish parliament was planning a price of between 5c and 10c per gram of alcohol.

If a minimum price of 7c per gram were legislated for here, a 500 ml can of beer with an alcohol content of four per cent would have to cost at least €1.40, he said. Or a 750ml bottle of wine with an alcohol content of 13 per cent would be priced at a minimum of €6.82.

The ’unit’ measurement was confusing he said. For example, a strong, craft beer contained more alcohol than a light larger and yet a half pint of ’beer’ was said to be one unit.

Legislation would be introduced to ensure all alcoholic products were labelled with details of how many grams of alcohol and calories were in the product. “Then there will be no confusion, no ambiguity.”