Minister justifies refusal to engage with industry

The Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for Primary Care Alex White has justified his refusal to speak to representatives of the drinks industry in his Opening Address at this year’s Alcohol Forum National Conference.

Speaking about the forthcoming Public Health Alcohol Bill, he stated, “As part of the public dialogue surrounding the Bill, many of us in this room have been accused of treating the drinks industry like a “pariah”. This is certainly not my intention”.?But he went on to explain to delegates in the National Conference Centre that, “The drinks industry has a job to do which is to sell alcohol and maximise shareholder interests. They’re perfectly entitled to do this. As large employers they have a role in our recovering economy. The drinks lobby advocates the industry’s business interests vigorously and I have no objection to that.

“However, the conflicting interests of the drinks industry who seek to increase the consumption of alcohol and public health professionals who seek to reduce the consumption of alcohol really cannot be reconciled when it comes to formulating public health policy. The alcohol industry seeks a role for itself in public health policy areas that extend far beyond their role as producers and retailers of alcohol.”

The recommendations of the National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group Report underpin the Bill which will provide for:
Minimum unit pricing for retailing of alcohol products

Regulation of marketing and advertising of alcohol

Regulation of sports sponsorship, specifically replace existing voluntary code that governs sports sponsorship with a statutory code

Separation of alcohol from other products

Enforcement powers for Environmental Health Officers in relation to alcohol

Health labelling of alcohol products.

The Minister also informed the conference that he expected the North/South research on Minimum Unit Pricing will be completed by June this year.

“The study is modelling the impact of various minimum unit prices on consumption of alcohol, along with looking at the benefits that we believe will flow to our respective health and criminal justice systems and to the broader economy from reduced consumption of alcohol,” he stated.

The theme of this year’s conference – from which representatives of the drinks industry were barred – was ‘Alcohol’s Harm to Others: When Their Drinking Becomes Your Problem’.

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