Home > Joint Committeee on Transport and Communications debate. Sponsorship of major sporting events by Drinks Industry: discussion with Alcohol Action Ireland and College of Psychiatrists of Ireland.

[Oireachtas] Joint Committeee on Transport and Communications debate. Sponsorship of major sporting events by Drinks Industry: discussion with Alcohol Action Ireland and College of Psychiatrists of Ireland. (17 Apr 2013)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/joint_...

Chairman: The purpose of this morning’s engagement is to hear the views of two bodies, Alcohol Action Ireland and the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland, on the sponsorship of sports and cultural events by the drinks industry. The joint committee will hold a further meeting on the issue with other interest groups, probably next week. On its behalf, I welcome Dr. Bobby Smyth and Professor Joe Barry of Alcohol Action Ireland and Dr. William Flannery and Dr. Eamon Keenan of the Faculty of Addiction Psychiatry, College of Psychiatrists of Ireland.

By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they give to the committee. If they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against a person or persons or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. The submissions made to the committee and opening statements will be published on its website after the meeting. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I invite Dr. Smyth and Professor Barry of Alcohol Action Ireland to make the first presentation. They will be followed by the representatives of the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland. 

Dr. Bobby Smyth:I thank the joint committee for giving us the opportunity to meet it. We have a major problem with the consumption of alcohol which kills 1,200 people per year in Ireland. Some 2,000 Irish people are in hospital beds today owing to alcohol use. The harm generated by alcohol is felt not just by drinkers but also by those around them. Some 10% of Irish children say their lives have been adversely affected by their parents' drinking.


More starkly, it is estimated that parental drinking accounts for one sixth of all cases of child abuse and neglect. How strange these innocent victims of our drinking culture must find it looking into an Ireland that chooses to bombard them with positive images of alcohol, linking it with fun, social success and sporting prowess. Alcohol Action Ireland was one of a vast number of stakeholders represented on the national substance misuse strategy steering group. Like committee members, that group recognised that this was a complex health and social problem, with many factors influencing consumption and, therefore, requiring a multi-pronged approach. Today we are discussing in isolation just one of the dozens of recommendations made in that report. There is a danger that we will fail to see the big picture.


In addition to making changes to pricing and availability to apply a brake on Ireland's runaway drinking culture, we must also take our foot off the accelerator. Alcohol promotion via advertising and sponsorship acts as that accelerator. While common sense tells us that sponsorship promotes consumption, with typical arrogance, the alcohol industry and those in receipt of its money demand that we provide them with evidence that it does. It is this multi-billion euro industry that should be required to provide proof. If they have proof that alcohol sponsorship does nothing to increase alcohol-related harm or drinking by adolescents, Alcohol Action Ireland would have no issue with this activity.


Although the recession has caused per capita consumption to fall slightly, Irish adult drinkers still consume, on average, the equivalent of one bottle of whiskey per man and woman per week. This average consumption is well into the range of hazardous drinking, using WHO definitions. The My World survey in 2012 demonstrated that the majority of young Irish men grew up to use alcohol in a manner that was harmful to their health. Again, this information is based on on the World Health Organization's AUDIT screening instrument. With 72,000 babies born each year, it is our view that this country now functions as a conveyor belt, producing very heavy drinkers, each of whom generates great profits for the alcohol industry.


The sports in receipt of the bulk of drink industry money are rugby, soccer and Gaelic games. These sports are typically played by young men aged 15 to 29 years. Young men tend to be healthy. The two biggest causes of death among young men are suicide and accidents. We all know that alcohol commonly has a role in accidents. We also know from Irish research that it is a contributory factor in half of all suicides and that the majority of young men who kill themselves are drunk at the time. Overall, it is estimated that alcohol is responsible for one in every four deaths among young males aged 15 to 29 years. There is noproduct on the planet that causes more deaths and social problems in young men. We believe, therefore, that there is no product on the planet that could more inappropriately be promoted by sports organisations. In terms of the harm experienced by the demographic who play these sports, it would make more sense to allow them to be sponsored by tobacco companies, as cigarettes tend to kill old people.


The age of onset of drinking is typically around 15 years. During the next 12 months 60,000 children will start drinking. Therefore, during the next five years 300,000 Irish children will commence their drinking careers. Because they are going to grow up to be among the heaviest drinkers on earth by the time they are 20 years old, it is they who are the real targets of alcohol advertising and sponsorship. From a business perspective, it is vital to establish brand awareness and, ideally, brand loyalty prior to children commencing drinking. As was pointed out last weekend by a former president of the GAA, through our ridiculously lax advertising and sponsorship guidelines, we facilitate the drinks industry to groom children in the interests of profit to become the next generation of hard and heavy Irish drinkers.


Chairman:I thank Dr. Smyth for his presentation and now invite Professor Barry to make his.


Professor Joe Barry:I thank the Chairman and joint committee for affording us this opportunity. We read with interest the transcript of the committee's interaction on 27 March with the three main sports bodies. I have been playing sport since my early teens and only gave up contact sports after five years of playing over-35s soccer. Like the majority of Irish adults, I, too, drink alcohol. I continue to enjoy watching and attending all sports codes and agree that sports organisations have a very important part to play in the social life of the country. I was, therefore, saddened by what the heads of the IRFU, the FAI and the GAA had to say to the committee on 27 March.


I would like to concentrate in my presentation on the influence of alcohol marketing. Alcohol marketing and advertising does work. It influences young people's alcohol beliefs and behaviour. The alcohol companies would not spend so much on marketing and advertising if it did not work. That is obvious. We have much evidence that young people exposed to alcohol branding begin drinking at an earlier age and that this can lead to dependence in adulthood. The younger a person is when he or she commences drinking alcohol the greater the chance he or she will have a dependency problem from his or her 30s onwards.


A study commissioned by the Department of Health in 2001 showed that alcohol advertisements were the favourite among children. They are expensive to produce, but obviously they are the best advertisements. A study in the United States in 2006 showed that young people who watched more alcohol advertisements on television were more likely to have drank beer. It also showed that for each dollar spent on alcohol advertisements alcohol consumption increased and that drinking by people brought up in more advertising rich environments plateaued in their late 20s, while drinking by people exposed to alcohol marketing plateaued in their early 20s. As such, what one is exposed to as a teenager has long-term effects. Another study in Australia and New Zealand showed that sports people exposed to alcohol sports sponsorship had higher drinking scores. In this study approximately 600 people in New South Wales were asked about their exposure to sports sponsorship in their sports organisations. There was a link between sports sponsorship and their drinking behaviour….


The third study was an across-Europe study and involved 13 longitudinal studies which tracked people over four time periods. It showed that young people who were exposed early to alcohol marketing were more likely to commence drinking earlier or, if already drinking, were more likely to drink more. There was what was termed a "dose response", namely, the more one was exposed the more one drank. The statement that alcohol advertising does not influence behaviour is not true. There is a great deal evidence to the contrary.


The sports bodies and the alcohol industry are incorrect when they state there is no evidence that sports sponsorship by drinks companies influences children to drink. The measures we are hoping will be introduced to break the link between sports bodies and alcohol marketing are a crucial part of our response as a country. We have a big drinking problem and many young people are storing up trouble for themselves and their families in the future. Sport is a very important part of our culture and long may it remain so, but let it not be dependent on alcohol money as seems to be the case. The alcohol industry is making money from sports sponsorship. Those involved on the health side believe there should be reduced alcohol sponsorship of sports. Unfortunately, the sports bodies are very much in the pocket of the alcohol industry, which is a shame. We would like them to take our point of view on board. I appeal to members of the committee, as legislators, to implement some of the recommendations made. Self-regulation does not work, as we have seen to our cost in other areas of public life.


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