‘Dramatic Increase’ in Alcohol Consumption – Task Force
Ireland has had the highest increase in alcohol consumption among EU countries, according to the Interim Report of the Strategic Task Force on Alcohol, published today [28th May 2002]. Between 1989 and 1999, alcohol consumption per capita in Ireland increased by 41%, while ten of the EU Member States showed a decrease. In 2000, alcohol consumption per adult in Ireland hit 14.2 litres, whereas the EU average was only 9.1 litres of pure alcohol per capita.
The Task Force, established by the Minister for Health and Children, Micheál Martin, describes the increase in alcohol consumption as ‘dramatic.’
In the last six years, the consumption of spirits alone has increased by over 50% and there has been a staggering increase of 100% in the consumption of cider. The increase in spirits consumption is partly due to the new ‘designer drinks’, which are targeted at the young adult market.
The Report indicates that this increase in consumption is directly related to a continuum of current problems, ranging from accidents and unprotected sex to chronic illness. These problems, it stresses, affect people right across the community. For example, alcohol was a factor for one in four visits to Accident & Emergency Departments in hospitals, and public order offences increased by 97% between 1996 and 2000, the vast majority of these being alcohol related.
Services dealing with the legal aspect of marriage breakdown reported that up to 34% of clients cited alcohol abuse as the main cause of their marital difficulties.
“35% of sexually active teenagers said that alcohol was an influencing factor for them engaging in sex,” the Report states, noting that, during the last decade, sexually transmitted infections have increased by 165% in Ireland.
The Strategic Task Force, comprising Government Department representatives, state agencies and others, was requested to produce interim recommendations within three months of its first meeting. In assessing measures taken to date to limit the damage alcohol can cause, it states that most of the measures have been in the area of information, education and training, while the supply side saw few intiatives. The supply side of alcohol consumption, it points out, stimulates demand by price incentives, advertising, promotions and increased product availability.
The report provides a series of recommendations aimed at lowering per capita consumption and reducing the harm that consumption causes:
1) Ireland must reduce per capita consumption by regulating availability through;
- Increasing taxes
- Health Boards intervening on Public Health issues regarding licensing
2) Ireland must drastically reduce road accidents through;
- Random breath testing
- Reducing the minimum blood alcohol level to .50 mg % (Ireland and the UK are the only EU Countries at .80mg%)
3) Ireland must limit harm in the drinking environment by
- Enforcing the law preventing publicans from serving those already intoxicated
- Restricting sales promotions that encourage high risk drinking (promotions like happy hours and two for one deals.)
4) Ireland must protect children from alcohol consumption by reducing their exposure to marketing by,
- Limiting advertising
- Controlling where ads are placed
- Ensuring advertising content does not appeal to children
- Banning alcohol sponsorship of children’s activities