SIR – The Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, chaired by Jerry Buttimer TD, has finished its work on the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015. They have recommended the introduction of a series of amendments to the Bill that can reduce the number of men, women and children in Ireland who die or are harmed by alcohol use.
These include setting a minimum unit price for alcohol, the inclusion of labels with health warnings, restrictions around the advertising of alcohol to children and young people and the separation of its sale from everyday groceries. There is evidence to show that all of these measures can help to significantly change our relationship with alcohol, save lives and free up our overwhelmed hospitals in a significant way. You will hear much about the ‘nanny state’ and how a few people who drink irresponsibly are ruining it for everyone else. The facts tell a different story.
Alcohol consumption is on the rise again. Research shows that about 80 per cent of Irish adults consume alcohol and more than half of those are classified as harmful high risk drinkers. Almost 10 per cent of those who consume alcohol are dependent - and this rises to 15 per cent among 18-24 year olds.
Doctors are increasingly caring for more than 200,000 chronic dependant drinkers with organ damage, cancers, cirrhosis and liver failure, heart failure and problems related to the brain and nervous system and physical and mental health problems Some 1,500 hospitals beds are occupied every night as a result of alcohol use. Alcohol is also a factor in half of all suicides in Ireland.
Every day, three people in Ireland die as a result of alcohol use – more than are killed on the roads.
Alcohol has been classified as carcinogenic and linked to 7 types of cancer. The European Cancer Code says there is no ‘safe’ level. The more you drink, the higher your risk of cancer.
The way we drink alcohol in Ireland costs the state €3.7billion annually in providing healthcare, policing and other services. We know that alcohol harm not only affects the individual drinker, but also affects others around them, including family members, friends, co-workers and the wider community.
The lack of a progressive alcohol policy to date had resulted in children’s lives being blighted by alcohol misuse within their families contributing to parental addiction, financial difficulties, family breakdown, neglect and abuse.
Tackling alcohol pricing is one of the most effective ways of reducing alcohol-related harm.
Setting a minimum unit price for alcohol will effectively target high-risk drinkers who consume the cheapest and strongest alcohol products, while having little or no effect on low-risk drinkers. The Bill can also help to reverse the worrying rise in the binge drinking culture in Ireland, which is a huge concern for the future health of our teenagers and young adults.
Alcohol Health Alliance Ireland – the first public health advocacy coalition formed on alcohol, believes the real cost of alcohol in Irish society must urgently be addressed. Let’s grasp the opportunity to do something about this now by supporting the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.
Prof Frank Murray,
Royal College of Physicians of Ireland
and chair of Alcohol Health Alliance Ireland.