Irish teenagers are the second most sober in the EU, a Fine Gael backbencher has claimed as he rejected all the major elements of the Government’s Bill to tackle Ireland’s alcohol crisis.
Dublin North West TD Noel Rock also claimed that minimum unit pricing, a bid to prevent low cost sales of alcohol, was based on "middle class guilt with working class consequences".
He said people could succumb to alcoholism just as easily on a high income as a low one but the €2.50 increase in a bottle of wine to €8 might not affect him or a Government Minister “but it could mean an awful lot to an individual for whom it is a once-off treat as part of their groceries”.
Mr Rock was speaking during the ongoing Dáil debate on the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill which introduces a minimum unit price, health warnings on labels including the link to cancer, advertising and promotion restrictions, and separation of alcohol from other products in supermarkets and other shops.
The Fine Gael backbencher also claimed that European teenagers were on average 25 per cent more likely to binge drink than Irish teenagers, but did not cite the source of his statistics.
Former minister of state for health Marcella Corcoran Kennedy said, however, it was no surprise that the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland "flat out" denies any link with cancer even though the World Health Organisation has classified alcohol as a group 1 (most serious) carcinogen, "similar to tobacco, arsenic and asbestos".
It was no surprise either that the industry is “trying to cause confusion and doubt over the fact that alcohol is a carcinogen or that the alcohol industry has fought Scotland through the courts and delayed its intention to introduce minimum unit pricing for five years”, she said.
She also pointed out that this was the first alcohol-related legislation that was being dealt with through the Department of Health as public health policy rather than through the Department of Justice.
Ms Corcoran Kennedy, who staunchly defended the legislation as minister, said the fuss about the legislation was all about profit.
“The global drinks industry wants us all to keep drinking alcohol, just like the tobacco companies want us to keep smoking.
“The alcohol companies and supermarket chains want our children to be introduced to alcohol as an ordinary product when they accompany their parents to buy food. There it is, sitting beside the bread, the milk and the frozen food, usually at heavily discounted prices,” she said.
Sinn Féin TD Denise Mitchell said the point of the Bill “is to make it clear that alcohol is not like any other product yet advertisements which children see constantly glamorise its use”.
Her party colleague Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the health warnings for alcohol labels were welcome. “Just because they are not already in use in other jurisdictions does not mean we cannot take the lead.”
Fianna Fáil TD Jack Chambers said the efforts of the drinks industry to stymie the legislation were comparable to the actions of the tobacco industry which “tried to frustrate every public health initiative and bury the evidence”.
He said about €1 billion is spent annually on advertising alcohol. “That is an awful lot of money for something that drinks firms would have us believe does not work.”
Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary said it was important to pass the Bill quickly and just as important to enforce it. He said supermarkets should be "named and shamed" if they breached its provisions in the same way that the Food Safety Authority publishes a monthly list of food outlets that have been closed down for breaches.
He added that any group which refused to comply with this Bill needs to be named and shamed every month and they need to start “chipping away” at the alcohol industry’s reputation.
Mr Calleary hit out at comparisons by “highly paid executives” of carcinogens in alcohol with those of “burnt toast”. They should visit families who have lost loved ones to alcohol or “talk to a security officer who has been beaten up doing his job while doing their job, because of alcohol”. They should talk to the people impacted on a daily basis by “this country’s warped relationship with alcohol”.