Yesterday, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar got Cabinet approval for the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015. This bill sets out a number of measures to help tackle Ireland's ever worsening alcohol problem and includes measures such as, including health warnings and calorie counts on labels,new restriction on advertsing, marketing and sponsorship by drinks companies and a minimum pricing of alcohol of between 9c and 11c per gram of alcohol.
While I do admire the steps the Minister is taking in addressing Ireland's binge drinking culture, I feel the minimum level of pricing he is suggesting is excessive and will lead to many negative effects. According to the current rates available to us, best case scenario, a bottle of wine will cost €7.20 and a can of beer €1.80. However, in the worst case scenario, a bottle of wine will cost €8.80 and a can of beer €2.20.
Ireland has a culture associated with drinking. Whether it's a pint of Guinness or a bottle of Jameson, we are a nation renowed across the globe for our drinking prowess. It's not something we should be proud of, nor do I think we are, but it does show us that the problem is inherent in our culture and something I think minimum pricing is far from stopping.
Look at the headlines that made the news this week: Two Irish lads snuck into the Super Bowl and managed to bag a pair of $25k seats. Headlines about the story rolling in from America proclaim the act was pulled off by 'Drunken Irishmen'. Now I know these lads from college, and while I have no doubt that they were celebrating the occasion, I don't think this headline does them or our country justice. This isn't a story about 'drunken Irishmen'. This is a story about two lads, chancing their arm and having a bit of craic. Not some alcohol-fueled crazy Hangover style trip that some of the media are portraying it as.
I personally feel minimum pricing will lead to an increase in two particular cases. Firstly, I feel 'home brew' kits will suddenly sky rocket in popularity. A practice of people fermenting and brewing alcohol in bath tubs and basements across Ireland will grasp the nation. This practice in my opinion is far more dangerous as it is completely unregulated and virtually impossible to know the proof of the brew you are consuming.
Secondly, I think we will see increased numbers of people going on 'booze crusies' to Newry or France and stocking up on supplies at cheaper prices before returning home. Who knows if this booze will be used for personal consumption or sold for personal profit, but either way it's going to enter the irish market. Just look at the amount of 'beer barons' who have profited since the introduction of restricted off-licence trading hours in 2008.
How can we think that setting minimum prices of drinks in supermarkets at €1.80 a can while there are nightclubs promoting €2 vodka redbulls to students is going to solve a problem? That's not to say that I don't agree with all aspects of this bill.. A positivie effect would be that it prevents alcohol being advertised to children via TV and radio with a broadcasting watershed of 9pm expected to be included. It also plans to impose further restrictions on cinemas and outdoor advertising of alcohol, with an outright ban on marketing to alcohol in an appealing manner to children.
But while this bill will potentially do a lot of good for the nation, I feel it has missed out on two key areas. Firstly it has failed to prevent the sponsorship of sporting events by drinks companies. This means that while thousands of children tune in to watch their sporting heros preform on a national stage they will be subjected to billboards and branding featuring the logos of our biggest drinks companies. I simply can't understand why impose all the above measures but pass on this?
The second issue I feel this bill failed to address and it seems no provision has been made for is ensuring that increased education on alcohol and the dangerous of it is relayed the masses and most importantly to children in schools. And I'm not talking the standard 'don't drink alcohol because you'll vomit in your sleep and suffocate' we were all subjected to in school. I'm talking in-depth scienctific studies and presentations from people who have abused alcohol so the experience is tangible.
To solve Ireland's alcohol issues we need a mass overhaul of alcohol policy and a cultural buy in from all memebers of the community. This means politicans, sports persoanilities and everyone included. Recent campaigns like 'On The Dry' supported by Dublin GAA and AIG are a stepping stone to achieving this dream but we need to do more. And with regular news stories appearing in the media about massive bar spends in the Dail on the nights of the abortion and water services debate I personally feel the politicians could do with setting a better example themselves. This week a massive story swept the globe about two young Irish men sneaking into $25k seats at the Super Bowl.
So although I feel the bill has good intentions and was composed with the best interest of Irelands public health in mind, I can't help but think this bill won't have any real lasting meaningful impact and will fall short of addressing the binge drinking culture that plagues the nation.