Dublin: Alcohol Use A “Terrible Blight On Society” Minister

23 Sep

MINIMUM prices for alcohol and curbs on advertising and sponsorship are planned under a government strategy.

Roisín Shortall, the junior minister with responsibility for primary care, told an Oireachtas Committee yesterday the use of alcohol was a “terrible blight on society”.

Revealing the likely proposals of the forthcoming national substance misuse strategy, Ms Shortall said:

* She was “personally committed” to introducing minimum pricing, if the legal advice backed it.

* The national strategy would set targets to reduce alcohol consumption levels across the population.

* She was “determined” to end the practice of alcohol being sold alongside normal goods, saying she was “not satisfied” with a voluntary industry code.

* The strategy would address sponsorship and advertising of alcohol, including outdoor advertising.

* A new message would be sent to gardaí to fully enforce the laws on underage drinking, as she was not satisfied there was adequate enforcement.

In an address to the Oireachtas health committee, Ms Shortall gave her clearest and strongest views on alcohol since she took over the drugs brief as minister for primary care.

“Alcohol is a major problem in this country,” the north Dublin deputy told the joint committee.

“As a society we need to face up to it. As a society we drink too much.”

She told the committee she wanted cross party support to back the new strategy to “remove this terrible blight on society” in terms of the “damage alcohol has done to individuals, families and the health of Irish people”.

Dr Eamon Keenan, HSE consultant psychiatrist and member of the substance misuse strategy steering committee, objected to the alcohol industry’s presence on the committee.

“On the national drugs strategy steering committee we didn’t have drug pushers at the table. On the national substance misuse committee we have representatives of the drinks industry at the table.”

NEWS UPDATE:

THE alcohol industry is spending huge amounts of money to “normalise” a potentially “very dangerous product, Roisín Shortall said.

She said she was disturbed at how alcohol was sold side-by-side with everyday household essentials, like milk and bread.

She told the Oireachtas Committee on Health the forthcoming national substance misuse strategy, which replaces the national drugs strategy, would set targets to reduce alcohol consumption levels right across the population.

She said the issue of pricing was key.

She said the problem of cheap alcohol and its increased availability was “brought home” to her when she looked at figures published by Alcohol Action Ireland.

She said it showed that a woman could reach her low-risk threshold by spending just €6.30 and a man €10. She said a ban on below-cost selling was difficult to calculate as so many factors were at play.

The minister said the misuse strategy steering group was “concentrating more” on minimum pricing, reflecting the amount of alcohol in any drink. She said this was not straight forward either and they were seeking legal advice to see if it could accord with EU competition law.

“Personally, I am committed going that route if it is legally sound,” she said.

She said there had been an “explosion” of outlets selling alcohol.

“I have a big concern with alcohol being displayed along with sweets, biscuits and milk. It normalises alcohol as a product, it is not a normal product. It is potentially a very dangerous product.”

She said the last Government had allowed the industry to implement a voluntary code on separating the sale of alcohol.

She said she was “not satisfied” with this and that the majority of the steering committee wanted statutory regulations, which was “resisted” by the drinks industry. She said she was “determined” to address it.

Ms Shortall said distance selling and delivery of alcohol — over the phone and online — was “anecdotally a widespread practice and problem around the country”.

She said she was “not satisfied” that gardaí were enforcing laws on underage drinking enough.

The minister said a “huge amount of money” was spent by the industry on advertising.

Billy Kelleher TD of Fianna Fáil complained of seeing “industrial dumping” of alcohol cans, bottles and packaging by young people after a night’s or weekend’s drinking of cheap alcohol from supermarkets and off-licences.

In other areas, Ms Shortall expressed serious concern at the abuse of prescription drugs, such as benzodiazepines, and the emergence of cannabis grow houses.

www.drugfreeworld.org

She said she had asked the HSE to examine the prescription of these drugs with a view of identifying problem areas and GPs prescribing inappropriately.

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