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Home > Dail Eireann debate. Written answer 78 - Alcohol sales legislation [22735/13].

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Written answer 78 - Alcohol sales legislation [22735/13]. (14 May 2013)

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78. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivanasked the Minister for Health in response to the recent statistics on the physical implications of alcohol abuse, including liver disease, as published by the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, Reducing Alcohol Health Harm, the strategies he intends to take to tackle the abuse and misuse of alcohol particularly in the young population where alcohol/drug abuse and misuse also leads to anti-social behaviour, violence and poor relationships [22735/13] 

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Alex White): The problems of alcohol misuse and the recommendations to deal with these in the report of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland are similar to those reported by the substance misuse steering group. Both reports provide a robust analysis of the problems of alcohol misuse and key recommendations based on a thorough review of national and international evidence.


I will be submitting proposals to the Government very shortly to deal with the misuse of alcohol. These proposals are based on the recommendations of the substance misuse report. These proposals are real and tangible, and cover all of the areas mentioned in the latter report including, but not limited to legislation on minimum unit pricing, which is about setting a statutory floor price per gram of alcohol; access and availability of alcohol, including separation of alcohol from other products in retail units where alcohol is sold; and advertising and sponsorship. The Cabinet committee on social policy has already considered these proposals and in developing them. My officials and I have also had frequent discussions with a number of Departments.


At the same time, work by my officials on developing a framework for the necessary Department of Health legislation governing, among others, minimum pricing, has continued. For example, in conjunction with Northern Ireland, a health impact assessment is being commissioned as part of the process of developing a legislative basis for minimum unit pricing. Scotland commissioned the same sort of assessment when it was developing its legal framework on minimum unit pricing, approved in the Scottish High Court only last week on 3 May, which I am very pleased to see. The health impact assessment will study the impact of different minimum prices on a range of areas such as health, crime and likely economic impact.


Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: I thank the Minister of State and wish him well with bringing those proposals to Cabinet. I hope they make progress. There is no doubt we have a very unhealthy relationship with alcohol and the statistics on the role of alcohol in murder, assault, sexual assault and public order offences is frightening. Particularly frightening is the increase in liver disease particularly among young people. An 18 year old woman was the most recent casualty of that.


We are moving away from what was our pub culture, which was centered on the pub as an occasion to go out to socialise and meet people. Now we have a very serious situation where, when purchasing a bottle of milk or petrol and one can also buy alcohol. These are very serious issues. Young people can dial to have drink delivered to their house and nobody is checking the age. That must come into the Minister's deliberations. The later people start drinking the better so we must examine underage drinking. Last week I was involved in a youth convention with five schools from the north inner city and what emerged was frightening. More than 95% of them, whose average age was 16, were drinking regularly.


Deputy Alex White: I agree very much with what Deputy O'Sullivan has said and the insight she has brought to this. I recently met with members of the Royal College of Physicians and had the opportunity to discuss these issues with them. The Deputy has outlined some of their concerns in her question. Although the proposals have not yet gone to Cabinet, the proposals I regard as important are also regarded as very important, relevant and necessary by the Royal College of Physicians. The Deputy mentioned the increasing instance of liver disease and she is right about that. On the broader population issue, the risk is very high for young people in particular, particularly older teenagers and those coming into adulthood, and it must be addressed.


Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: I am also having a meeting next Tuesday and delegates include Professor Joe Barry and somebody from the Royal College of Physicians. We looked at marketing and certain advertisements that the drinks companies were coming up with, which were very clever and glamorous…..


Young people spoke about how these advertisements associated alcohol with having fun and being healthy, with confidence-building and having relationships. The whole area of advertising must be looked at. When I met people from the gambling industry recently I asked them about the possibility of a levy related to gambling addiction. What contribution will the alcohol industry make? If it is making any, its contribution should be much more about these alcohol-related issues that cost everybody so much.


Deputy Alex White: Each of the issues the Deputy has touched on has exercised me in the course of the preparation of this memo to Government and the intended preparation, for the first time, of public health alcohol legislation. We have a public health perspective on this issue. Traditionally, our only perspective on this in terms of public policy was the licensing laws. These laws are very important, of course, and are one of the reasons we have had such a proliferation of outlets where alcohol can be obtained. However, my perspective and that of my colleague, the Minister for Health, on this is public health and that is what we are bringing to bear. I hope and expect a broad degree of support for the measures I am proposing.


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