HRB finds 80% believe current alcohol consumption levels here too high

While over four in five people (85 per cent) believe that current levels of alcohol consumption in Ireland are too high, only one in 10 (nine per cent) know the recommended maximum number of standard drinks that they can safely consume in one week: 14 for women and 21 for men, according to the results of a survey, Alcohol: Public knowledge, attitudes and behaviour, published by the Health Research Board recently.

The survey, conducted and analysed by Ipsos MRBI, sought to measure Irish people’s knowledge, attitudes and behaviours in relation to alcohol consumption as well as the marketing and selling of alcohol and current and potential responses to alcohol-related health and social harms.

The findings show that one in six people (17 per cent) in Ireland did not drink alcohol in the 12 months prior to the survey and that very few people understand what a standard drink is – a measure containing 10 grams of alcohol – for example one glass of beer, one pub measure of spirits, or 100ml of wine.

Of the 1,020 people surveyed, three in four (73 per cent) believe that Irish society tolerates high levels of alcohol consumption. A considerable majority (72 per cent) of the people state that they know someone who, in their opinion, drinks too much and 42 per cent of this group state that this person is an immediate family member.

Three in every five (58 per cent) don’t believe the Government is currently doing enough to reduce alcohol consumption and almost four in five (78 per cent) think the Government has responsibility for introducing public health measures to address alcohol consumption. People’s responses to survey questions indicate support for implementing a number of the individual measures in the recently-published Report of the Working Group on a National Substance Misuse Strategy (for alcohol).

According to the HRB, the majority support labelling alcohol containers to include calories, alcoholic strength, ingredients and health warnings (82 – 98 per cent); introducing further measures to deal with alcohol and driving (84 -94 per cent); restricting certain types of alcohol advertising (57 – 80 per cent); introducing minimum pricing (58 per cent); seeking contributions to pay for social and health consequences resulting from excess alcohol use from the people who drink alcohol (61 -71 per cent).

Pricing and availability
Three in five (58 per cent) support a minimum unit price for alcohol with support highest (at 65 per cent) among those aged between 35 and 64. However 21 per cent would not support this action, with lack of support highest (33 per cent) in the 18 to 24 age group.

Three quarters of those surveyed purchase alcohol in supermarkets and the survey revealed that it would take a price increase of 25 per cent or more to get 67 per cent of people to decrease the amount that they purchase.  For example, a 25 per cent increase on an average bottle of wine priced at €6.99 would increase its price to €8.74 and 67 per cent of people (who would buy it at €6.99) would buy that bottle less often, claims the HRB.

Conversely, 25 per cent of the people who shop in supermarkets would buy more alcohol if the price of alcohol was to decrease; notably 50 per cent of 18 to 24 year-olds claim they would buy more. Opinion is somewhat divided on whether special offers or price reductions encourage respondents to buy more alcohol than usual with 45 per cent agreeing that they buy more alcohol and 39 per cent disagreeing. Those aged 18 to 24 are most likely to respond to such promotions with almost two-thirds (65 per cent) saying that they buy more when alcohol is on special offer or when the price is reduced.
“These results indicate that young people’s purchasing of alcohol is most influenced by pricing”, claims the HRB’s Dr Jean Long.

Almost half (47 per cent) of the population support reducing the number of outlets selling alcohol; 28 per cent do not. Two-fifths (40 per cent) support selling alcohol in separate premises to food and other household products; 32 per cent do not.

Advertising and sponsorship
People strongly support a variety of advertising restrictions including adverts being limited to the product and not the person who consumes the brand (78 per cent), no alcohol advertising at the cinema for movies rated 17 years and under (80 per cent), no alcohol advertising on TV and radio before 9.00 pm (76 per cent), banning of advertising on social media (70 per cent) and banning of alcohol adverts on billboards and bus stops (57 per cent).
A ban on the alcohol industry sponsoring sporting and musical events is supported by 42 per cent and 37 per cent respectively. Support is somewhat higher among women (49 per cent for sport and 45 per cent for music) and in those 45 years or over (47 per cent for sport and 46 per cent for music). The main lack of support for discontinuing sponsorship is among men (54 per cent for sport and 57 per cent for music) and those under 44 years-of-age (51 per cent for sport and 59 per cent for music).

The vast majority of respondents would like to see four categories of information on any drink container: alcohol strength (98 per cent), number of calories (82 per cent), details of alcohol-related harms (95 per cent) and ingredients list (91 per cent).

Health and social costs
Of those surveyed, 61 per cent believe that those who drink alcohol should contribute to health-related costs, 42 per cent believe the alcohol industry should contribute, with 27 per cent supporting state taxes contributing these costs.

Another study showed that public disorder-related costs in 2007 amounted to €1.2billion. When asked then, 71 per cent of those surveyed said that individuals who drink alcohol should contribute, 30 per cent believe the alcohol industry should contribute, while 22 per cent support a state contribution through taxation.

Alcohol and Driving
There’s near universal support (94 per cent) for the mandatory testing of drivers’ alcohol levels when involved in traffic accidents. More than eight in 10 (84 per cent) agree that those convicted of drink-driving on more than one occasion should have an ‘alcohol lock’ fitted in their car.  This indicates strong support for additional measures to address drink-driving.

“This report provides evidence that the public thinks that our alcohol consumption is too high and that they support the Government to introduce public health measures to reduce alcohol consumption in Ireland,” concludes Dr Long, “The survey findings indicate people’s support for many of the individual measures to address alcohol consumption recommended in the Report of the Working Group on a National Substance Misuse Strategy for alcohol. The fact that the findings in this survey are consistent with general population surveys, surveys among school children and other public opinion surveys adds to the strength of the evidence.”

The Vintners’ Federation of Ireland has welcomed the fact that the findings of the Health Research Board survey mirrors what its members have been calling for for some time – a thorough debate amongst all stakeholders involved in the drinks industry, targeted at making the consumption of drink in Ireland as controlled, as safe and as responsible as possible.

Launched only days after the horrific scenes witnessed at Phoenix Park and a week after the irresponsible promotion of alcohol by a well-known supermarket chain, the results show without doubt that the Irish public want a change, want it now and indeed 58 per cent believe that the Government is not doing enough, stated the Federation.

The standout findings as far as the VFI is concerned are:
∑       58 per cent of Irish people believe that there should be a minimum price below which alcohol cannot be sold
∑       The majority believe that alcohol should be sold in a separate premises to food and other household products
∑       Of those that have purchased alcohol in supermarkets, 52 per cent believe that the price of alcohol in supermarket has  fallen
∑       Of the 18 to 24 year-olds surveyed, 65 per cent buy more alcohol when on promotion in supermarkets
∑       47 per cent believe that the Government should reduce the number of outlets selling alcohol.

“Our members have called for a minimum price at which alcohol will be sold, for segregated areas and for the end to price-driven promotion and we are happy to see that the public support us in what we have been calling for,” stated VFI Chief Executive Padraig Cribben, “We are also encouraged by Government soundings on these issues but it is now time for action.
“The Irish pub will not be found wanting in this process and the VFI and our members are keen to ensure that we develop a better relationship between Irish society and alcohol which will in the end be to all our benefits.

“The VFI would welcome any opportunity to discuss with other stakeholders the issues so clearly identified in the HRB survey.”

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