Psychiatrists call for complete ban on alcohol advertising


Irish teenagers spend €145 million a year on alcohol, more than the entire annual spend on illegal drugs such as heroin, according to Irish psychiatrist Dr Bobby Smyth.

Dr Smyth was speaking at the publication of a policy paper today by the Irish College of Psychiatrists which calls for a complete ban on all alcohol advertising and sponsorship in Ireland.

“A recent report by the Office of Tobacco Control revealed that our 16-17 year olds spend €20.09 per week on alcohol. This amounts to an illegal alcohol market of €145 million in this country and as a society we seem to be accepting this as ‘normal'," he said.

An international survey of teenage drinking habits carried out in 2004 by ESPAD (the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs) revealed that Irish teenagers demonstrate the highest rates of drunkenness in Europe with 25 per cent of respondents saying they got drunk at least three times per month.

Dr Smyth said this finding was particularly worrying given emerging scientific evidence of the harm alcohol can do to the developing teenage brain.

“The earlier someone starts drinking the more likely they are to develop a dependence on alcohol as an adult,” he said.

“I am seeing people who start drinking at 13. That gets boring so they move to drugs at 16 or 18. Alcohol is a gateway drug. My advice to parents who don’t want their children to have drug problems is to delay their introduction to alcohol.”

The Irish College of Psychiatrists say Irish children are exposed to high levels of alcohol advertising with virtually all sporting events linked to alcohol products.

They are calling for a complete ban on all promotion of alcohol.

Dr Smyth also criticised self-regulation of the alcohol industry, saying it was not working.

“We have no meaningful restrictions on advertising in print or electronic media - and all that has happened in recent years is the creation of an illusion that something is being done,” he said.

“There were no drug dealers at the table when the social partners were discussing how to tackle drug abuse. So why are the alcohol industry at the table? They will do anything to protect their profits. Meanwhile, hundreds of lives are being lost.”