The report, The misuse of alcohol and other drugs, published recently and which was the result of three months of public hearings from across the spectrum, recommends that the Government end VAT refunds on below-cost sales of alcohol and that it prohibit the practice of retail deliveries of alcohol directly to consumers’ homes.
The majority of the Committee members also support the introduction of minimum pricing in respect of alcohol in a forthcoming public health bill. There was however a divergence of views within the committee on this matter with a minority supporting, as an alternative, an increase in either or both alcohol tax (with the additional revenue generated being ring-fenced for preventative education and the provision of alcohol addiction services).
Other key recommendations included:
- That the Government consider how a programme of new, preventative, educational initiatives, aimed at the public in general, could be devised and implemented. The aim of this programme would be to highlight the implications and dangers of alcohol and drug misuse and to influence the prevailing cultural attitudes, particularly in relation to the use of alcohol.
- That the Committee is extremely concerned about the proliferation of outlets selling alcoholic products and the presentation of such products therein. It recommends that legislation be introduced which would ban the presentation and sale of alcohol alongside groceries, confectionary and fuel.
- Consideration should also be given to an outright ban on the sale of alcohol in certain outlets in the longer term.
- That youth work and peer support be considered by policymakers as an integral part of any strategy aiming to divert children away from substance misuse.
Committee Chairman Jerry Buttimer TD commented, “The over-arching aim of this report is to highlight the prevalence of alcohol and other drugs in society and to emphasise the misuse of alcohol in particular, this being the most commonly-used drug – what some have called the ‘national drug’.
“It is the Committee’s belief that there’s no single measure which will solve the problem of alcohol misuse. Rather, a package of measures is needed to change attitudes towards – and behaviour regarding – the consumption of alcohol.
“The Committee is aware that alcohol consumption per capita is an indicator for alcohol-related harm in any country. Noting the lower levels of total alcohol consumption per capita in 1960s Ireland, the Committee wishes to see the implementation of measures which will bring about a significant reduction in the overall consumption of alcohol per capita in the coming years.”
ABFI has welcomed the Committee’s call for an emphasis on education to promote a more responsible attitude to alcohol in Ireland.
ABFI Director Kathryn D’Arcy said that while she welcomed the fact that the report did not recommend blanket bans on drinks industry sponsorship or advertising, the call for the introduction of a 9pm watershed on tv advertising would be largely ineffective given the large number of UK and foreign channels beamed into Ireland that would not be covered by domestic legislation.
She said that the co-regulatory codes of practice that govern alcohol marketing are a more effective means of reducing the exposure of young people and other groups than further restrictions.
Minimum pricing continued to be fraught with legal difficulties, she said, adding that the re-introduction of a ban on below-cost-selling would be a far more effective means of addressing the sale of cheap alcohol.
“Last November ABFI made a presentation to the Oireachtas Health Committee where we emphasised that in the context of rapidly declining alcohol consumption an opportunity exists to introduce targeted measures that will effectively address alcohol misuse,” she stated, “We particularly welcome the Committee’s call for educational initiatives to change attitudes to alcohol and the drinks industry stands ready to support such campaigns.”
The Chief Executive of MEAS/drinkaware.ie Fionnuala Sheehan also welcomed the recognition given in the report to the important role of preventative, educational programmes.
Having attended the launch of the report in Leinster House, she added that she also welcomed the emphasis of Deputy Jerry Buttimer on the need for a multi-faceted and multi-stakeholder approach to tackling the problems associated with alcohol misuse.
The Vintners Federation of Ireland welcomed the report and is happy that they have taken onboard a significant number of its proposals and suggestions.
“A cursory look around supermarkets in the pre-Christmas period demonstrated that the RRAI Code is at best seasonal and generally disregarded by the majority of those that profess compliance,” commented VFI Chief Executive Padraig Cribben, “This is only a set of recommendations albeit a very important set. What we now need is for the Minister to take decisive action based on these recommendations and her own public utterannces of recent times. We look forward to these actions being taken.”