Are there Double Standards in relation to Alcohol Abuse in Ireland

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Compliments of Irish Examiner

Alcohol consumption in Ireland has risen 46% per capita over ten years. We are now the biggest boozers in the world.

If any other product was causing so many problems in society i.e. death, serious health problems, devastation of families, there would be an outcry for action. Why the double standards? It is not all about profit, greed and selfishness of individuals. In 1960 £4 million was spent on alcohol; 1970 — £128 million, 1980 — £690 million, 2000 – £3.5 billion and 15 billion (15 million per day on drink). Those aremassive sums. The estimated economic cost to the state is £2.2 billion in the form of health-related costs, road accidents, absenteeism from work and lost tax revenue.

Underage drinking

Youth alcohol consumption and its related problems are a cause of serious concern. Underage drinking has now reached disturbing numbers. Latest statistics (May-April 200i) 80% of sixteen year olds drinking regularly. However, blaming young people for the alcoholic ills of society is an attempt hypocritically to divert attention from the rather larger contribution to these ills by their elders. Drinking on every occasion, christenings, confirmations, weddings and after football games, etc and the massive promotion of alcohol by us adults. How can youth avoid it?

It saddens me greatly to see the way in which the drinks industry has managed to associate alcohol with sport in the public mind. This provides their product with a favourable image, giving it youthful appeal, advocating a clean and wholesome lifestyIe. The drinks industry is most eager for this form of advertising as it links alcohol with sporting prowess, fitness and success. It makes alcohol part of the event, not separate from it. The sport, the drink, the spectator become one.

When the drinks industry spends money, it is looking for more sales – for market share (and it spends annually some €50 million on advertising and sponsorship) in Ireland.

Buying silence

The drinks industry appears as a generous benefactor when all it is really interested in is massive profits for a relatively cheap investment. Of course, the sponsors go to enormous lengths to distance their products from any negative consequences of its use. By sinking such a huge amount of money in sponsorship it is effectively buying silence — because as the old Chinese proverb puts it: ‘A dog with a bone in its mouth won’t bark’.

There will be no criticisms from the committees, from the sports associations, which they sponsor. In a cunning and clinical way, the drinks companies use festivals and sports events to generate goodwill and promote their public image. The fact that the leaders of our country attend practically all the major sporting events sponsored by drinks firms – gives the impression that the ‘great and the good’ of our society – the political, social and dare I say it – even the clerical elite – are endorsing the message that drink is a natural part of these events – that in some way these occasions wouldn’t be the same without alcohol. There is no question that such participation gives the message loud and clear — ‘alcohol is part of what we are as a people’. In so doing these companies and their products are endorsed in a very public manner by the elite in our society. And that‘s just what they want and that’s just what they’lI continue to get as long as people fail to see how they are being cynically fed in the interests of profit.

Government inaction

Our leaders have introduced measures and advertising campaigns to combat smoking, illicit drugs, child abuse, aids etc all very commendable. But in the name of truth and honesty — why is there a blind spot as regards alcohol abuse, which has taken more lives than all those other factors combined, including the troubles in Northern Ireland over twenty years?

The government spent €4,192,678 from June 97 to December 2001 on anti-smoking campaigns. It spent €631,179 from June 97 to December2001 on anti-alcohol campaigns.ls it not time that serious action is taken to combat this most serious problem. Where is our National Alcohol Policy (published in 1996) with an excellent action plan? How is it that we have heard so little about it?

European Charter

Is it because the strong influence of the drinks industry or lack of courage by our politicians? Or indeed could there be a connection between the two? Recently we had the launch of the Interim Report on Alcohol. What effect will it have?

Where is the European Alcohol Action Plan 2000 — 2005 (endorsed in Italy in Sept, 1999 by the Regional Committee for Europe of the World Health Organisation — of which we are a member). The European Charter on alcohol sets out five ethical principles and ten strategies for action. It is an excellent plan and should be published nationally and action taken. Of course, this action plan has not been received with enthusiasm by the drinks industry, for reasons that are all too obvious. They will be the last to support any strategy that threatens their profits.

Community devastation

Many Years ago — fellow county man of my own — John Healy — wrote a wonderful book about the realities of emigration from rural Ireland — and he gave it the title — “No One Shouted Stop!” Well, I am arguing that alcohol abuse is as devastating today to our communities as emigration was to these same communities in the past.

ls it not time the medical, teaching and legal professions, trade unions, the churches and last but not least our politicians SHOUTED STOP to the drinks companies and their travellers in the interest of a healthier, safer and above all saner society?

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About this record

Written by Dr Mick Loftus

Published here 27 Jul 2023 and originally published Winter 2002

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