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Home > Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform debate. Pre-Budget submissions: discussion (resumed) [alcohol & tobacco].

[Oireachtas] Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform debate. Pre-Budget submissions: discussion (resumed) [alcohol & tobacco]. (17 Jul 2014)


Vice Chairman: This is the fourth session of our pre-budget submissions. I welcome Professor Frank Murray from the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland; Ms Cliona Loughnane, policy and research manager of the Irish Heart Foundation; Ms Kathleen O'Meara, head of advocacy and communications at the Irish Cancer Society; Mr. Gerry Martin, CEO, of the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, Dr. Shari McDaid, director of Mental Health Reform; and Ms Barbara O'Connell, CEO of Acquired Brain Injury Ireland.

  The format of the meeting will be a roundtable discussion on health based on the pre-budget submissions received from the organisations before us. The witnesses will make their opening statements in the following order: the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, the Irish Heart Foundation, the Irish Cancer Society, the Alzheimer's Society of Ireland, Mental Health Reform and Acquired Brain Injury Ireland. A question and answer session with members will then ensue. Given the time constraints involved, and to ensure we have a constructive debate, I must insist all opening statements are kept to a maximum of three minutes. Witnesses have already been advised by the committee secretariat that I will stop them if they go over their time limit. Each member is entitled to ask questions only once and the relevant witnesses can respond. I remind members, witnesses and those in the public Gallery that all mobile phones must be switched off.

  By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they will be 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 they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing ruling of the Chair to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

  I invite Professor Murray to make his opening statement on the pre-budget submission.

Professor Frank Murray: I thank the committee for this opportunity to present on behalf of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, RCPI. RCPI is specifically concerned with protecting and improving health in Ireland, and has policy groups in three key areas relevant to today's discussion, namely, alcohol, tobacco and obesity.

Every month in Ireland 88 deaths, approximately three per day, are directly attributable to alcohol. Alcohol-related harm costs Ireland an estimated €3.7 billion a year. A recent WHO report found that Ireland is the third highest binge-drinking nation in the world, and on average we consume almost 12 litres of alcohol per year, which is well in excess of the Government's Healthy Ireland target of 9.2 litres. A recent Health Research Board, HRB, survey found that two-thirds of males and half of females started drinking before the legal age of 18 years of age and 75% of people who consume alcohol do so in a harmful way. Meanwhile, the death rate from liver cirrhosis has doubled in Ireland since the 1970’s, in parallel with our increased alcohol intake.

Despite good progress, the toll of tobacco-related deaths is still unacceptably high in Ireland. One out of every two people who smoke long term will die from a smoking-related disease. This accounts each year for at least 5,200 deaths, representing approximately 19% of deaths in Ireland. The cost of treating an in-patient for a smoking-related disease in Ireland amounts to €7,700, while Ireland spends on average €500 million per year on smoking-related diseases.

Obesity is now an epidemic in Ireland. One in four Irish children and two out of three Irish adults are overweight or obese. The estimated cost of this to the Irish State is €1.13 billion per year. If the current trends of obesity continue, it is estimated that the direct health care costs alone will reach €5.4 billion by 2030. RCPI is therefore fully supportive of the Irish Heart Foundation’s call for a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks.

These stark statistics reflect the daily alarming reality observed by physicians and other health professionals. We are increasingly concerned at the alarming increase in human suffering, ill health and death, with dreadful consequences for patients and their families as a result of alcohol, tobacco and sugar. With this in mind, RCPI has proposed a number of evidenced-based fiscal solutions to the Government. We propose that Ireland turn off the tap of cheap alcohol to some of the most vulnerable individuals in Ireland.....

[For the full debate, click on the url link above]

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