The head of Heineken in Ireland has said alcohol suppliers have a moral obligation to make it “uncool to be drunk”, adding that she does not “give a shit” if her stance gets her fired from the company.
Heineken Ireland CEO Maggie Timoney made the comments at the annual conference of retail industry magazine Checkout in the Mansion House in Dublin.
Addressing the conference, Ms Timoney said that those in the alcohol industry “are not the most beloved” in the media.
“It would be remiss of me to stand up here and not talk about responsibility and the responsibility we have as brewers,” she said.
She said Heineken commits 10% of its media spend to the area of responsible drinking and is one of the funders of a relaunched and independently run Drink Aware campaign.
However, she said she believes a blanket ban on alcohol advertising will not work, and the industry should instead promote responsible drinking.
“I’m not here standing for a popularity contest,” she said. “I don’t give a shit if you vote for me or if I get fired tomorrow from Heineken. I don’t care. There is a moral obligation for the people in this room, suppliers, retailers, to do it for the right reasons so that in 15, 20 years’ time, the footprints in the sand will be that we’ll have made it uncool to be drunk in Ireland.
“Behaviour change is the only way to do that.”
Ms Timoney cited industry partnership with government in Sweden as an example of public awareness campaigns targeting responsible drinking.
She said Heineken is to launch an advert to encourage its customers to drink less. She said that, having lived abroad for a number of years before returning to Ireland, she was “shocked” at the negative sentiment towards the drinks industry.
A spokesperson said the company stood by Ms Timoney’s comments, and that the company wanted to ensure it had a “long future” by encouraging its customers to drink responsibly.
“We have invested in the moderation message over the past couple of years,” the spokesperson said. “We have invested in our ‘Dance More, Drink Slow’ and ‘Sunrise’ campaigns to encourage moderate alcohol consumption.”
Alcohol Action Ireland says alcohol is responsible for 88 deaths every month in Ireland, that it is a factor in half of all suicides in the country, and that 900 people in Ireland are diagnosed with alcohol-related cancers every year. The charity also says that one in four deaths of young men aged 15 to 39 in Ireland is due to alcohol.
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