The latest Irish campaign to promote more moderate drinking

A Faustian pact?

Drink alcohol responsibly may be the injunction, but too many Irish people drink to excess and their consumption is "out of control". The economic costs and human consequences of excessive drinking are well documented. The damage to health can be seen in the increased number of deaths from liver cirrhosis. And the risk to life is apparent, both in the number of road fatalities and the many other accidents and incidents where alcohol was a major contributory factor. These developments are hardly surprising. For, as Prof Frank Murray, a gastroenterologist, has pointed out: "In Ireland we now consume twice as much as we did 50 years ago."

As a society we have been quick to recognise the alcohol problem, but slow to address it, and to change our drinking habits. Will the latest campaign to stop "out of control" drinking make any difference? There are obvious grounds for doubt. For where a campaign to stop excessive drinking is paid for by a drinks company, Diageo, some public scepticism seems quite justified.

Diageo, the global international spirits, wine and beer company that owns Guinness, was until recently the promoter of Arthur’s Day – a marketing ploy that seemed to have the effect of getting more drinkers to consume more Guinness. But as the annual drinks promotion event became increasingly marked by alcoholic excess – where some drank Guinness irresponsibly – the company quietly abandoned it. Arthur’s Day damaged the brand, and now Diageo has agreed to fund a campaign to stop “out of control” drinking.

Any initiative that helps to tackle excessive drinking and its effects on society and especially the young is welcome. The short-term revenue loss to Diageo in drink sales may well be offset in time by longer-term gains – in the company’s reputation and revenue – if this campaign really makes a difference. Whether, what may seem like a Faustian pact can succeed remains to be seen. For now the initiative deserves a qualified welcome but success or otherwise will be seen by future behaviour around drinking.