Lobby groups accused of trying to derail alcohol legislation

Health experts say Ibec and alcohol industry ‘surrogates’ trying to ‘spook’ Oireachtas members

Public Health Alcohol Bill will reform how alcohol is sold and promoted

Public Health Alcohol Bill will reform how alcohol is sold and promoted

 

Business lobby groups and alcohol industry “surrogates” are attempting to derail legislation that will reform how alcohol is sold and promoted in Ireland, an alliance of health groups has said.

Members of Alcohol Health Alliance Ireland expressed disappointment at the lack of progress of the Public Health Alcohol Bill, which they believe has been hindered by lobbyists from the alcohol industry.

The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill aims to dramatically reduce alcohol consumption in Ireland by 2020.

Its proposals include minimum unit pricing (to prevent cheap alcohol sales); changed labelling of alcohol to include calories and health warnings; regulation of advertising and sponsorship; and the strict separation of alcohol products in retail outlets.

It was published almost two years ago but its progress was halted in the Seanad last winter. Senators were intensely lobbied by the drinks industry, and by shop owners who were concerned that a requirement to separate the alcohol section from the rest of the store would place onerous costs on them.

The alliance, which says it represents 52 of Ireland’s leading voices in medicine and health advocacy, urged the immediate enactment of the Bill, saying it had now languished before the Oireachtas for more than 650 days.

Liver specialist and chair of the alliance, Prof Frank Murray, said there was “an unsustainable crisis in Ireland as a result of how much alcohol we consume and the way in which we drink”.

“There is widespread concern about this and a huge public desire to take effective action to reduce alcohol harm. For too long, the alcohol industry has had too much influence on policy,” he said.

“The alcohol industry should have no role in national alcohol policy which must be protected from distortion by commercial or vested interests, as stated by the director of the World Health Organisation. ”

He said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Health Simon Harris had taken a courageous stand as individual advocates for the measures within the Bill, and the need to progress its enactment.

“Without their commitment, this historic piece of public health legislation would have slipped off the agenda. I believe other political leaders in Ireland also support the effective action in the Bill,” Prof Murray added.

Lethal consequences

Delays in enacting it had resulted in “lethal consequences” and 2,000 more people had died due to alcohol-related illnesses over the duration of the delay.

Prof Murray was critical of the “highly influential” business group Ibec, which he alleged had tried to “spin a common thread” between vested interests and those who advocated for public health. He said Ibec, the alcohol industry and its “surrogates” had frequently resorted to highly intemperate language to “try to spook our legislators” and to derail the legislation.

Kathryn Reilly, policy manager with the Irish Heart Foundation, said the “cold facts” were that the over-consumption of alcohol was putting people at risk of heart disease and stroke. She said 10,000 people died every year in the State from cardiovascular disease, which accounted for 36 per cent of all deaths and 22 per cent of premature deaths.

“It is estimated that stroke incidents will increase by 59 per cent by 2030. Research shows that drinking two drinks per day in midlife increases your risk of stroke by more than a third and means that people are actually getting stroke five years earlier on average.”