AN ‘important first step in tackling alcohol abuse’ was how the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland’s Policy Group on Alcohol aptly described the measures announced in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 by Minister for Health Leo Varadkar last week. Cheap pricing and easy availability of alcohol have exacerbated problems in recent years with binge drinking almost out of control, especially amongst younger people.
Of course, binge drinking is not confined to our youth. They take example from their parents and other adults in a country where drinking to excess has been made such an integral part of nearly every occasion – happy or sad. It is a terrible indictment of us as a people that so many do not seem to know how to celebrate without alcohol.
Even family occasions involving children, such as First Communions and Confirmations, are toasted to excess with alcohol. Little wonder then that our health and justice services are stretched by the fall-out from excessive alcohol consumption.
Most existing legislation to try to curb excessive drinking has had to do with drink-driving limits and deterrents for public order offences, but has never addressed the roots of the problem. By bringing forward legislation in the public health domain, the government has at last recognised the damage that excesses are causing to people’s health and wellbeing – both physical and mental – and is attempting to address this.
Apart from proposals to tackle pricing and availability, the Alcohol Bill also provides for health warning labels on bottles and cans, although it is possible that minimum pricing could be legally challenged by the powerful drinks industry. Unfortunately, the Bill stops short of tackling the glamorising of alcohol inherent in drinks companies’ sponsorship of sport and sporting events, which needs to be phased out over time.
We would concur with the suggestion by Cork North West TD Michael Creed from Macroom that a ‘sunset clause’ on such sponsorship should be introduced so that it is not a case of kicking the proverbial can down the road on this hugely-important issue.