Groups launch attack on alcohol report

Sparks flew at the launch of a Government expert group’s report on alcohol, as representatives of the drinks industry accused the group of “effectively suppressing” its views and labelled members of being “ideologically prejudiced”.

The representative bodies were members of the national substance misuse strategy steering group and published — through the Department of Health website — their own minority reports to coincide with the main report.

The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland, which represents manufacturers and suppliers of alcohol, and Meas, an alcohol social responsibility organisation funded by the drinks industry, were among 33 groups, government departments and expert organisations which sat on the committee for over two years.

At the long-awaited publication of the report, details of which have previously been published in the Irish Examiner, the two groups launched a strong attack on the report and the group.

Fionnuala Sheehan, Meas chief executive, said: “A number of the group’s members were ideologically prejudiced against Meas, were unwilling to acknowledge the contribution of Meas to tackling alcohol abuse and were opposed to having any positive reference to the work of Meas/drinkaware.ie in the report.”

She said the publication of the report “compounded the prejudicial treatment of Meas, due to a refusal by the chairman of the group to include Meas’s contribution as part of the group’s findings”.

Ms Sheehan said they particularly objected to the report’s recommendation for a social responsibility levy on the drinks industry, which she said would, in effect, be a “new consumer tax”.

She also strongly criticised a recommendation calling for legislation to be enacted completely separating the sale and promotion of alcohol (except wine) from other products in retail outlets, such as supermarkets.

ABFI said the “view of the industry had been effectively suppressed” by not including a minority report alongside the main report.

The group said that the average drinker faced further “levies and taxes” and said there was a “lack of evidence” to support key recommendations. It said the proposal for minimum pricing was “legally misguided”.

ABFI director Kathryn D’Arcy said: “Many of the key measures in this report, if taken on board, will simply penalise the average consumer who enjoys alcohol sensibly and responsibly.”

Group chairman Dr Tony Holohan, chief medical officer of the Department of Health, said the minority reports were given to him at the last meeting of the steering group. He said after consulting other members he decided not to publish the reports in the main report, but published them online simultaneously.

He said that he did not regard the steering group as “ideologically opposed to any perspective” and said he accommodated all views.

Dr Jean Long of the Health Research Board said that the “majority” of Irish drinkers engaged in excessive drinking and the harms of alcohol “outweigh” the benefits. She said that Irish drinkers consumed more than one bottle of vodka on average per week.

Report recommendations

* Legislate for minimum pricing based on the amount (gram) of alcohol.

* A “social responsibility” levy on alcohol advertising and marketing.

* Enact legislation separating sale and promotion of alcohol (except wine) from other products.

* Restrict alcohol advertising, including a 9pm watershed on TV and radio, and a ban on all outdoor advertising.

* End alcohol sponsorship of sport, artistic, and cultural events by 2016.

* Increase the price of alcohol in the medium term through excise rates.

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