NSMS report gets wary reception from industry

Increasing the price of alcohol still further so that it becomes less affordable, introducing a ‘social responsibility’ levy on the drinks industry, the prohibition of all outdoor advertising of alcohol and the phasing out of drinks industry sponsorship of sport and other large public events by 2016 are among 45 recommendations (described as ‘Big Brother-style recommendations’ by the newspapers) from the Steering Group Report on a National Substance Misuse Strategy.

Chaired by the Department of Health’s Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan –  who predicted that in a decade people will be surprised to see alcohol advertising in the same way that they’re now surprised to see ads for tobacco – the Steering Group’s key recommendations also include minimum pricing and the structural separation of alcohol (excluding wine) from other products in supermarkets while pushing for a 9pm watershed for alcohol advertising on tv and radio. It recommends that all alcohol advertising in print media be subject to stringent codes, “enshrined in legislation and independently monitored”.

The report contains a few ‘wild’ card recommendations too such as – on the basis of no scientific evidence whatsoever – still further lowering of weekly drinking guidelines.

While agreeing with and welcoming the majority of the report’s recommendations, as a whole it’s a missed opportunity to address the very serious issue of alcohol misuse believes ABFI.

Given that alcohol consumption has fallen 17 per cent in the last decade and that this downward trend is likely to continue, an opportunity existed to introduce targeted measures to address those who misuse alcohol, binge-drinkers and underage drinkers, ABFI stated.

Instead, the report includes a number of unnecessary and unworkable proposals that if implemented will hit the responsible consumer and will impact on the 62,000 jobs and €2 billion in tax revenue that the drinks industry supports across the economy while doing little or nothing to address alcohol misuse, it stated.

ABFI added that the report was legally misguided in its pursuit of minimum pricing and that the re-introduction of the ban on below-cost selling would be far more effective in addressing cheap alcohol sales. It also claimed that the views of the industry had been effectively supressed by not including a minority report submitted by the Federation alongside today’s final report.
ABFI Director Kathryn D’Arcy commented, “Our industry operates within the most regulated environment for alcohol marketing anywhere in the world. Given that we are drinking far less than we did 10 years ago we do not need further restrictions, bans and legislation in order to address misuse.

“It is the culture of binge- and underage-drinking that needs to be addressed, not the entirely legitimate activities of a major industry, whose products are among Ireland’s leading brands and which supports jobs, businesses and livelihoods the length and breadth of the country.

“ABFI played a full role in the National Substance Misuse Steering Group and continually called for evidence-based measures to support the Group’s recommendations. While there is much to be welcomed in the report, regrettably in some key areas the failure to provide all available evidence to support the calls for restrictions, levies and bans means that we oppose a number of key recommendations.

“The fact that a decision was taken to disregard our objections as expressed in our minority report by not including it in today’s publication undermines the final report as a true reflection of what was expressed at the Group.”

The VFI welcomed the report.

“We are pleased to say that the report notes the good work and the positive effect that the pub has on the community and indeed on the economy as a whole and we would like to think that this will continue for some time yet,” it stated.

“The report underlines the fact that the pub is still the safest and most regulated place in which to consume alcohol,” it continued while also welcoming the report’s request that “price-based promotions will be examined and regulated in greater detail and that segregated areas will be used in the sale of alcohol in supermarkets.”

However the VFI has some reservations about some of the recommendations and is disappointed to see that excise levels are once again being examined with a view to an increase.

“As it currently stands, we pay over three times the EU average in excise on beer and nearly three times the EU average in excise on spirits and this recommendation, coming at a time when our members are under severe pressure to retain staff, retain customers and retain business, is not welcome.”

It also believes an outright ban on advertising will be rendered useless as foreign media play such a huge role in Irish media consumption. In addition, an outright ban on sponsorship of sport and other large public events, recommended to be phased out by 2016, could also have a hugely detrimental effect on the horse racing industry, for example, but also indigenous sports like GAA and indeed rugby, it points out.

The Federation also criticised the Social Responsibility Levy on the industry, concluding, “While the report goes a long way towards addressing the issues already highlighted, we’d hope to see further dialogue and discussion on these issues and look forward to engaging in same”.

MEAS/ supports most of the recommendations but due to the refusal of the Working Group to acknowledge MEAS’s contribution and to accommodate its considered view on a number of key issues (where it has particular experience) within the body of the main report, it was left with no choice but to submit a Minority Report. In particualr MEAS objects to the proposed introduction of a Social Responsiblity Levy to fund a new, duuplicate, HSE-led social marketing and awareness initiatvie (replacing and/or replicating and the “Ill-considred approach” to the regualtion for the sale, promotion and markeing of alcohol.

NOffLA too echoed one of the report’s recommendations by calling on Government to end the practice of Voluntary Codes for the regulation of the industry and instead give statutory effect to an amended Section 9 to include wine in structural separation requirements and Section 16 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act (2008) – legislation which already exists.

NOffLA Chairperson Evelyn Jones pointed out, “Section 9 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act (2008) as it currently stands provides an option to exclude wine (Section 9.1b) from the structural separation requirements. NOffLA asked the Steering Group today to provide clarification on their recommendation on whether or not they wanted wine to be separated from other alcohol products in mixed-trading premises and Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer and Chairman of the Steering Group told us that the Group’s recommendation excluded wine.  This means that wine could continue to be sold next to other household goods in mixed-trading premises”.

Figures from Nielson Ireland for 2010 show that 79 per cent of all wine sold for home consumption was bought in supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol stations.

“Almost 65 million bottles of wine were sold in supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol stations in 2010. With such high figures, why does the National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group not want to include it in Section 9? What makes wine different to other alcoholic beverages?” she asked.

She welcomed the recommendations put forward in the report on the introduction of minimum pricing but called on Government to introduce a ban on below-cost selling too.

NOffLA also called on Government to introduce mandatory training for any person retailing alcohol and mandatory identification for the purchase of all alcohol, regardless of age.



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