Time to stand up to drinks industry and ban adverts

 

OPINION:Various aspects of our culture are exploited to market alcohol, writes MICHAEL LOFTUS

A RECENT Irish Timeseditorial entitled “Safety on our Roads” (August 1st) rightly concluded that Irish society has a serious problem with alcohol abuse and that all sorts of excuses are found when it comes to doing something about it.

Among the usual excuses proffered are the obvious ones: the likelihood of job losses in the drinks trade if the prices of alcoholic beverages are increased and the consequent loss of revenue to the State as a result of falling consumption.

However, there is a less obvious excuse and that is the Irish drinks industry’s continued insistence that the promotion of alcohol be governed by self-regulation and voluntary codes of practice. In this instance, self-regulation amounts to no regulation.

For instance, a very important consequence of the self-regulation approach is that the advertising of alcohol here continues to be associated with masculinity and with personal, sexual and social success. This has allowed the drinks industry to exploit various aspects of our national culture for its own ends, major sporting events in particular.

Through the use of conscious and unconscious images that are enshrined in our cultural background, the drinks industry continually reiterates the underlying message that alcohol is part and parcel of our national industry, an indispensable part of what it is to be Irish.

If any of your readers are in doubt about the manner in which aspects of our culture are being used by the drinks industry for its own purposes, take note of the current high-profile promotion campaign commemorating the foundation of the James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin.

The implicit message is that as a nation, we know how to throw a good party, to keep people singing and happy, as the makers of that famous brand have been doing for generations. In my view, this is just another example of the kind of nonsense the Irish drinks industry has been peddling for years: behind all the paddywhackery lies the grim reality of countless numbers of people in this country whose lives have been and are being destroyed by alcohol abuse.

Such seductive linking of national identity, sporting prowess, masculinity and personal and social success would not be allowed in France, where the “Loi Evin” law has been instrumental in modifying the language and images of alcohol advertising since it was enacted almost two decades ago.

If we are to protect current and future cohorts of younger people, consideration must be given to banning all alcohol advertising on television, as well as on billboards, radio and in the cinema.

Of course, there will be howls of protest from the drinks industry, the advertisers and the broadcasters in opposition but as a former county coroner and as a practising general practitioner, I have known too many families bereaved by drink-driving, too many victims of alcohol-related violence, too many alcoholics and the families of alcoholics whose lives have been devastated by this most destructive and freely available drug.

Recession or no recession, there is no excuse for being indifferent to the most acute social problem in Ireland at this juncture and it is high time that our legislators stood up to the drinks industry and related vested interests.

Dr Michael Loftus is a GP practising at Crossmolina, Co Mayo. He is a former president of the GAA.

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