Home > Report of Seanad Public Consultation Committee: statements [lifestyle and cancer].

[Oireachtas] Report of Seanad Public Consultation Committee: statements [lifestyle and cancer]. (18 Sep 2013)

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

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Alex White): I am very pleased to have the opportunity to respond to the report of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee on lifestyle and its relationship to cancers.

As the report points out, Ireland lies second in the world in terms of cancer incidence. Within Ireland, it is estimated that one in three people will develop cancer during their lifetime. Bearing this in mind, it is worth remembering that finding and diagnosing cancer at an early stage can result in better outcomes for patients. Screening programmes, early detection and more effective treatment options have led to improved outcomes and survival rates for cancer patients….

One of the most significant lifestyle choices threatening health is smoking. As Members will be aware, 5,200 people die in Ireland every year due to smoking and 44% of these are deaths from cancer. Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in Ireland.

Many successful tobacco control initiatives have been introduced in Ireland. Examples include the workplace smoking ban, the ban on the display of tobacco products at point of sale, and the introduction of graphic warnings. In the coming weeks, the Minister for Health will be launching a new tobacco policy for Ireland. The recommendations outlined in the Seanad's report being discussed here today will help inform that policy.

It is internationally recognised that the countries which have developed and enhanced their tobacco control legislation, policies and services are those which are successful in reducing smoking rates. The new tobacco policy will set out what we need to do in order to move to a tobacco-free Ireland. The Minister has indicated many times that his priority, while not forgetting current smokers, is to prevent children from starting to smoke. The bans on tobacco advertising, packs of ten cigarettes and point-of-sale display have assisted in reducing the number of ten to 17 year olds who smoke from nearly 19% in 2002 to 12% in 2010. The trends are clear. The rates are reducing. The initiatives introduced since that last tobacco policy in 2000 have assisted in this reduction. This new policy, over a decade later, sets out the framework for achieving further reductions in the coming years.

Alcohol is also key when considering lifestyle choices which impact on health. Alcohol plays a complex role in Irish society. While it is associated with many aspects of Irish social and cultural life, it is also responsible for a wide range of health and social harms in society and places a significant burden on the resources of the State in dealing with the consequences of its use and misuse. A recent report from the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, entitled Reducing Alcohol Health Harm, highlighted the links between alcohol and cancer. Alcohol is classified as a group 1 carcinogen and it is one of the most significant causes of cancer in Ireland, being a risk factor in seven types of cancer. Alcohol increases the risk of more than 60 medical conditions; even at low-risk levels of consumption it increases the risk of developing many major diseases, including numerous cancers and gastrointestinal conditions.

The college reported that between 2000 and 2004, alcohol was estimated to cause 4.4% of deaths in Ireland. The rate of hospital discharges for alcoholic liver diseases increased by 247% for 15 to 34 year olds and by 224% for 35 to 49 year olds between 1995 and 2007.

Research from the National Cancer Control Programme found that approximately 5% of newly-diagnosed cancers and cancer deaths are attributable to alcohol, with around 900 cases and 500 deaths each year. The greatest impact was on organs of the upper aerodigestive tract. Cancer risk due to alcohol is deemed to be the same, regardless of the type of alcohol consumed, and even drinking within the recommended limits carries an increased risk. Therefore, what are we going to do about the misuse of alcohol?

My Department has submitted proposals to the Government based on the recommendations of the national substance misuse strategy report launched last year. These proposals cover all of the areas mentioned in the report, including legislation on minimum unit pricing; the advertising of alcohol; sponsorship; labelling of alcohol products; and prevention and intervention activities on alcohol.

Minimum unit pricing is a mechanism whereby a statutory floor in price levels is imposed for alcohol products that must be legally observed by retailers. The primary function of this measure is to reduce at-risk levels of alcohol consumption, especially by those who drink in a harmful and hazardous way, and it would also have a greater impact on discouraging children from drinking. The primary aim of minimum unit pricing is to target harmful and hazardous drinkers and reduce their consumption. Another aim is an overall reduction in consumption across the entire community. The means of attaining both aims is increasing the price of alcohol that is cheap relative to its strength. This is because research has shown that harmful and hazardous drinkers tend to purchase disproportionate amounts of cheap alcohol, no matter what the income level of the drinker. Therefore, there is evidence that increasing the price of such cheap alcohol using minimum unit pricing should lead to a reduction in the consumption of alcohol by such harmful drinkers.

We have consulted and negotiated extensively with other colleagues in the Government. Of course, we have to weigh up all of the different arguments before deciding how to proceed. Governments across Europe and elsewhere have already taken measures, while others are actively considering measures along the lines that we are addressing.

The Cabinet committee on social policy has considered these proposals and it is my intention to submit a finalised package of proposals to the Government shortly for consideration and approval.........

Senator Averil Power: Today is Arthur's day, the annual event where Diageo encourages people to go to the pub and raise a toast to Arthur. The company has spent a significant amount on advertising, promotions and live music with the objective of getting as many people as possible to drink Guinness tonight. The vast majority of people will have a fun and safe night out. They will have a few pints, listen to live music and go home without any trouble but, unfortunately, if tonight is anything like previous years, there will an increase of up to 30% in ambulance call outs and the Garda will have to deal with an increase in public order offences as people who raise a toast to Arthur at 17.59 fall onto the streets many hours later in Dublin and elsewhere. 


Earlier this week, I called on Diageo to cover the additional policing costs of today because there is a precedent for this in the context of concerts and sporting events. For example, it will be the case on Saturday for the All-Ireland hurling final replay when the GAA will cover the cost of the additional gardaí deployed in Croke Park because they are not on normal public duty. The same applies to concerts. If MCD or other promoters put on a concert, they must cover the additional policing costs. I call on Diageo to do the same.


The company's spokesperson when interviewed on various programmes during the week has questioned whether today is any different from St. Patrick's Day or any other day when people go out to enjoy a few pints. However, while it is one thing for people to celebrate an official national holiday, sporting event or a similar occasion, it is another for a commercial company to concoct a national drinking day or a national alcohol day, as it has been called by Christy Moore.


Diageo, as it has admitted in programmes during the week, has put together the event to get people out on a night when they would not ordinarily drink. It is to boost consumption of alcohol. It is a commercial event and it is wrong that a company would take the profits from that commercial event but not cover the public cost of it. Given that additional gardaí will need to be rostered tonight, they will not be available to work on some other night during the year. The extra pressure put on our health services tonight will have the same effect. We all know we are working in an environment of reduced budgets. That is why I issued my call to Diageo earlier in the week.


The front page of this morning's Irish Examiner reported that Diageo has agreed to contribute to some of the policing costs of the event. I know that the Minister, Deputy Quinn, is here representing the Minister for Justice and Equality and is not the Minister directly responsible, but I am hoping he can give me more details on what the company has agreed to do. Has it agreed to cover the full cost of the additional gardaí working on the streets tonight or just part of it? Perhaps the Minister can give us an estimate of the additional cost of Arthur's day on the State. The Minister is always very frank as he was in the debate we just concluded. I ask him to give his views on the event.


We all enjoy a few drinks - I celebrated last week's all-Ireland victory in my local pub along with half of the people of Dublin. I am looking forward to going out and having birthday celebration drinks with a friend of mine tomorrow night. However, I also accept there is a problem with excess alcohol consumption in Ireland, which is why I have an issue with an event being concocted purely for the purpose of encouraging people to drink more. In recent years the alcohol industry has emphasised taglines such as "drink responsibly". Its representatives tell us they get the message that they need to move away from promoting consumption and be more responsible in their marketing. That is why I have a concern about this event. It is not because I am a teetotaller or anti-drink. I believe it is marketed in a very cynical way. I ask the Minister for his personal views on the event.


Deputy Ruairí Quinn: As the Senator has pointed out, I am responding to her on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, who unfortunately is not available, and he has asked me to thank the Senator for raising these matters.


As the Senator may be aware, under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the Garda Commissioner is the Accounting Officer for the Garda Síochána Vote and, accordingly, he is responsible for operational expenditure incurred by the force. Section 30 of the 2005 Act also provides a statutory basis for the Garda Commissioner to charge for police services on a non-public duty basis for certain events. This is a function which is undertaken by the Commissioner independently of the Minister for Justice and Equality and his Department.

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