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New Junior Health Minister makes his views on alcohol consumption known

The ‘normalisation’ of alcohol in Irish society has been achieved partly at least by the manner in which it is promoted in the media, “.... almost as if alcohol has become an everyday grocery product like bread, milk and butter,” stated the new Junior Minister for Health Alex White a statement to the Senate recently.

His 12-minute presentation brought members up-to-date with his thinking on alcohol.

He referred to the National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group’s report in pointing out that Irish adults binge-drink more than any other European country.

“Twenty-five per cent report binge-drinking every week,” he said, “Half of Irish 16-year-olds have been drunk and one in five is a weekly drinker.

“There’s been a proliferation of stores selling alcohol: supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol stations now all sell it,” he continued, “It’s not unreasonable to link elevated alcohol consumption levels by the Irish population with this proliferation of availablity.

“It’s imperative that we reduce the overall level of alcohol consumed in our society and tackle the problems of alcohol misuse.”
The Steering Group’s report made a range of recommendations focusing on key areas on misuse of alcohol including supply, pricing, availability and the markting of alcohol along with preventative strategies etc.

The Minister went on to point out some of its key recomendations: increasing the price of alcohol, introducing a legislative base for minimum pricing along with a social responsibiltiy levy on the drinks industry, commemncing Section 9 on Sturctural Separation under the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008, introducing legislation and statutory Codes for a 9pm watershed on TV and radio, alcohol advertising in cinemas to be associated with films classified ‘Over 18s’ only, the prohibition of all outdoor advertising of alcohol and all alcohol advertising in the print media to be subject to stringent codes enshrined in legislation and independently monitored, to phase out drinks industry sponsorship of sport and other large public events by 2016 and to develop a system for the enforcement of the provisions of Intoxicating Liquor legislation.

“The Steering Group noted that children are drinking sooner and more than ever before,” stated the Minister, “These Recommendations are generic and apply to all cohorts of the population including children.”

He emphasised that an evidence-based statement from the Steering Group had reported 1.5 million people in Ieland drinking harmfully.

He felt that there should be strong and effective policies warranted by alcohol misuse that can adress this strong and pervasive threat to Irish public health, adding, “One such policy recommendation is minimum pricing..

“We cannot be ambivalent when it comes to the pattern of alcohol consumption and the harms that alcohol is responsible for,” he concluded, “Ambivalence on alcohol is now inexcusable and the report of the Steering Group has made sure of it. The Strategy points the way to dealing with the misuse of alcohol.”

While admitting that there may be difficulties with some aspects of the recommendations his Department is preparing a concrete set of propsals on the basis of the National Substance Misuse Strategy Report and it was his intention to submit these to Government for consideration and approval “as soon as possible”.

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