COMING up to Christmas, alcohol tends to be used and abused more as people celebrate the festive season. Binge drinking occurs across all age groups – amongst younger people more prevalently – and is a problem that the new Public Health (Alcohol) Bill aims to tackle, but does not go far enough.
Its provisions, if enacted, will have some positive impact on public health and this is to be welcomed. The long-awaited proposal for minimum pricing of alcohol, which has successfully acted as a deterrent in other countries, will hopefully reduce binge drinking amongst the younger generation and the planned restrictions on advertising alcohol products on television until after 9pm, and on the places where they may be advertised, should limit their exposure to the glamorisation of drinking.
However, there are no restrictions on advertising through social media and the drinks industry will have to voluntarily show some responsibility in this area. Another disappointing aspect of the new Bill is the failure of the government to do more to curb the influence of the drinks industry in the sporting sphere and, while it is intended to limit alcohol advertising to 20% of ads in stadiums, there is nothing being done to limit sponsorship of sports events or to curb the availability of booze in stadiums.
The cult of drinking that goes hand in hand with professional sports in particular nowadays is a joke – but far from being a funny one. Indeed, it has become such an insidious development in recent years that some sporting organisations can hardly live without the huge amounts of money being poured into sponsorship of their games by high-profile purveyors of alcohol products.
The combination of high sporting achievement and alcohol consumption is a contradiction in terms, as sportspeople need to be abstemious en route to attaining their goals. While nobody can expect it to happen overnight, sports clubs and tournaments need to be weaned off their high dependence on drinks industry sponsorship in the medium term and encouraged to find alternative sources of funding.
Unfortunately, the new Public Health (Alcohol) Bill just skirts around the edges of the problem of alcohol abuse and fails to confront the central problem caused by the pervasive nature of the sponsorship of big ticket events. It may well lead to some progress in tackling binge drinking and, as Minister for Health Leo Varadkar stated, should help ease pressure on accident and emergency units by reducing the incidence of drink-related assaults on our streets, domestic violence and accidents on our roads, while helping with people’s physical and mental health and reducing the number of suicides.
However, Irish society will not be able to reap these welcome benefits if the Bill fails to be enacted, as it is not due to go through the Houses of the Oireachtas for consideration until the middle of next year – and only then if Fine Gael are back in power after the forthcoming general election. Worryingly, in drinking parlance, there’s many a slip between the glass and the lip.