Health-bill hearing warned of need to act on alcohol sponsorship

Advertising affects children’s behaviour, says Alcohol Action Ireland CEO Suzanne Costello

Suzanne Costello chief executive of Alcohol Action Ireland: ‘Like most systems of self-regulation in Ireland, the alcohol industry’s codes have proven to be wholly ineffective and has done nothing to protect the young and vulnerable members of our society from alcohol harm.’ Photograph: Bryan O’Brien / The Irish Times

Suzanne Costello chief executive of Alcohol Action Ireland: ‘Like most systems of self-regulation in Ireland, the alcohol industry’s codes have proven to be wholly ineffective and has done nothing to protect the young and vulnerable members of our society from alcohol harm.’ Photograph: Bryan O’Brien / The Irish Times

 

An opportunity to make a major difference to the health of future generations will be spurned by failure to tackle alcohol marketing, the Joint Committee on Health and Children has been warned.

Addressing a hearing on the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, Alcohol Action Ireland chief executive Suzanne Costello said an “ongoing failure to introduce effective regulations and legislation” meant the alcohol industry had “become Irish children and young people’s primary educator on alcohol”.

She said existing voluntary codes governing alcohol advertising and alcohol sponsorship of sport on a statutory footing through this Bill were “deeply concerning”.

She said children were “continuously exposed to positive, risk-free images of alcohol and its use” and described sponsorship of sporting events by alcohol brands as “a particularly potent form of sales promotion”.

She said “comprehensive evidence” had shown children were not only exposed to a lot of alcohol promotion through sports sponsorship, “but that their beliefs and behaviour in relation to alcohol are influenced by the alignment of alcohol brands with their sporting heroes and everything they represent”.

She said the alcohol industry “writes the rules it sees fit to adhere to and decides whether they are being obeyed or not. Like most systems of self-regulation in Ireland, the alcohol industry’s codes have proven to be wholly ineffective and has done nothing to protect the young and vulnerable members of our society from alcohol harm.”

Addressing the same committee hearing, the Licensed Vintners Association voiced strong support for the minimum pricing of alcohol but said the Government must ensure the price per unit was set at an appropriately high level.

In its submission, the LVA, which represents Dublin publicans, said the new minimum price had to impact consumer behaviour and purchasing patterns.

The chief executive of the association Donall O’Keeffe said that if the minimum price per unit of alcohol wasn’t set at a realistic level it would undermine the new legislation and the Government’s policy objectives.

“Price and availability are the key control mechanisms, recognised internationally, for dealing with alcohol abuse. The Government now needs to set a strong minimum retail price – including the minimum price, excise and VAT – to ensure the legislation is effective,” Mr O’Keeffe said.

Evelyn Jones of the National Off-Licence Association (NOffLA), also presenting, said: “The independent off-licence sector has an important part to play in working with the Government to address the various issues associated with the irresponsible retailing and consumption of alcohol. We fully support any measures that promote good practice across the retail industry.”