Minister Shortall and Dr Tony Holohan, the Government’s Chief Medical Officer, attended an Oireachtas Committee meeting recently to discuss the findings of the Steering Group Report on a National Substance Misuse Strategy and provide members with an overview of some of the evidence presented by the Steering Group on the adverse implications of alcohol on society.
Committee Chairman Jerry Buttimer said, “As a society we’ve debated our misuse and consumption of alcohol for many years but there comes a point when there is a need to move from debate to political action. On this issue that time is now. No longer can those charged with devising and implementing public policy abdicate responsibility on this important matter of public health.
“I welcome the Minister’s commitment to bring forward a public health bill to address the issue of alcohol misuse by mid-year. The Minister confirmed that a reference group from the Committee on Health and Children will work with both her Department and the Steering Group in developing a robust set of measures to tackle alcohol misuse. This initiative will ensure that the recommendations contained in the Committee’s Report on The Misuse of Alcohol and Other Drugs and the Steering Group Report On a National Substance Misuse Strategy will form part of the proposals to be brought forward by the Minister.
“It is a responsibility to tackle this pressing public health issue which has driven all members of the Committee in presenting a detailed set of options which will assist in tackling alcohol misuse. We recognise that no single intervention or measure alone will work – what is required is a multifaceted approach which addresses the broad spectrum of factors which contribute to alcohol misuse. That is why we have made proposals around advertising, education and pricing. I hope that the Minister’s commitment to engage further with the Committee will deliver a significant change in public policy on alcohol.”
At the meeting Dr Tony Holohan pointed out that “much had been made” by the alcohol industry of a drop in consumption levels in recent years.
However per capita consumption had in fact risen from 11.3 litres of pure alcohol per adult in 2009 to 11.9 litres in 2010 with provisional CSO figures indicating a further rise in 2011 to 11.97 litres.
This was despite the fact that alcohol was less affordable due to the impact of the economic downturn, he added, pointing out that the target in the strategy report is to lower consumption levels to 9.2 litres – a European average – by 2016.
Roisin Shortall also “certainly intended to pursue” the introduction of legislation on drink promotions and how alcohol was sold in supermarkets etc.
The report makes a series of recommendations, including the introduction of minimum pricing for alcohol, increases in excise duty, the separation of alcohol from groceries in supermarkets and mixed-trade outlets, greater restrictions on advertising and the phasing out of sports sponsorship by drinks companies by 2016.
Roisin Shortall argued that there can be “no room for equivocation” by Government and that no punches would be pulled when the action plan was finally published.