Health Department playing “fast & loose”

The Department of Health has been criticised for “misleading” Senators ahead of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill being reintroduced to the Seanad later today.

With the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill due for debate later today the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland has come out fighting. According to ABFI the Department of Health’s Fact vs Fiction about the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015, sent to all Senators, plays “fast and loose with the truth” and “is further evidence that the debate about the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill is not rooted in facts or evidence.”

And ABFI has further stated that it’s surprised to see the Department of Health contributing to “fake news” around this subject.

In the Fact vs Fiction document, the Department says it’s a “myth” that alcohol consumption in Ireland is falling, when in fact Ireland’s alcohol consumption has been falling since it peaked in 2001. Ireland’s alcohol consumption fell from 14.44 litres per adult in 2001, to 11.24 litres per adult in 2016.

According to the World Health Organisation alcohol consumption in Ireland has declined by 25% since 2005, with Ireland falling significantly from a ranking of ninth to 18th on alcohol consumption between 2005 to 2016.


No evidence

Furthermore ABFI claims that the Department of Health uses incorrect figures for alcohol consumption in the document, stating that 11.46 litres were consumed per adult in 2016. This figure is based on the 2011 census rather than the 2016 census.

“Earlier this year, the CSO published a revision to the earlier population figures,” states ABFI, “The correct figure is 11.240 litres per adult for 2016.”

In the Fact vs Fiction briefing the Department also indicates that the proposed advertising restrictions will lead to a decline in consumption.

“In fact, the evidence shows that this may not be the case,” claims the Federation, “In a report commissioned by a number of Irish media companies, economist Jim Power carried out an extensive economic analysis of similar advertising restrictions in other jurisdictions. The report found that there was no evidence to link restrictive advertising with reduced consumption of alcohol by both adults and young people.

“In fact, Jim Power goes as far as to say that it is very questionable if the benefits to be derived from a ban on advertising would outweigh the costs.

“Since a similar advertising ban was introduced in Norway, consumption has remained static. Meanwhile, in Mediterranean wine-drinking countries, average consumption fell by more than 30% between 1980 and 2000 despite the fact that most wine countries have fewer restrictions on alcohol advertising, marketing, and distribution.”

Jim Power’s report looks at the evidence of 17 OECD countries including Switzerland, Greece, Italy and Denmark and fails to find conclusive evidence that advertising bans reduce consumption.

The Department also states in its document that the estimated cost of €1,350 to €5,900 per store to implement structural separation requirements was provided by NOFFLA.

But according to the Responsible Retailers of Alcohol in Ireland off-licences are exempt from the legislation proposed in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill and stand to gain a competitive advantage if the legislation in its current form is introduced, states ABFI.

“The RRAI say that the cost of implementing the structural separation requirements would be approximately €20,000 per store and many multiples of this figure for larger stores,” states ABFI, adding that, “The RRAI cost estimates have been verified by independent practitioners in the field.”

In Fact vs Fiction, the Department also says that the sponsorship of cultural and music events “will be prohibited three years after the commencement of the provision and only in the case of an event where the majority of participants or competitors are children, where an event is aimed particularly at children or where it involves driving or motor vehicles.”

In reality, states ABFI, the punitive new advertising restrictions proposed in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill would effectively mean a ban on sponsorship by decreasing the volume and value of sponsorship partnerships for drinks companies.

“This is due to the knock-on effect of these advertising restrictions.

“Currently, the drinks industry provides almost €8.5 million in sponsorship to over 50 arts and cultural events around the country which is essential to their viability and sustainability.”

A balanced approach to the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill is required, believes ABFI Director Patricia Callan.

“This Facts vs Fiction document illustrates the fact that the implications of the Alcohol Bill haven’t been fully considered due to the lack of consultation with the drinks industry,” she stated, “It shows not only a lack of balance in this debate but that the Department of Health is trying to influence Senators with misleading information and spin.”


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