Health experts claimed the country’s lax controls on alcohol advertising and sponsorship allowed the drinks industry to “groom” children” — claims rejected as “sensational” by alcohol groups yesterday.
The joint committee on transport and communications was told, contrary to submissions from sports bodies at previous hearings, alcohol sponsorship does lead to early and more drinking among young people.
Dr Bobby Smyth, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, said alcohol killed 1,200 people in Ireland every year; 10% of children said their lives had been affected by parents’ drinking.
Dr Smyth said the national substance misuse strategy steering group report, published in Feb 2012, made about 40 recommendations, one of which was on sponsorship.
Representing Alcohol Action Ireland, Dr Smyth criticised the “arrogance” of the alcohol industry in claiming sponsorship did not increase consumption.
“With 72,000 babies born each year, our country now functions as a conveyor belt producing very heavy drinkers, each of whom then generates great profits for the alcohol industry.”
He said the average age of drinking was typically around 15 years, adding: “There are 60,000 children who are going to start drinking this year; 300,000 Irish children are going to commence their drinking careers in the next five years. Because these children are going to grow up to be among the heaviest drinkers on Earth by the time they are 20 years old, it is they who are the targets of alcohol advertising and sponsorship.”
Dr Smyth said that Ireland’s ridiculously lax advertising and sponsorship guidelines facilitated “the drinks industry to groom our children”.
The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland rejected these claims as “misinformed and sensational” and said it undermined the 62,000 people working in the industry. ABFI director Kathryn D’Arcy said the drinks industry had invested more than €20m over the past six years to fund drinkaware.ie. She said alcohol consumption had fallen 19% since 2001.
Prof Joe Barry, also representing Alcohol Action Ireland, quoted a range of domestic and international research showing alcohol advertising works among children.
Committee chairman Tom Hayes said sports bodies (in soccer, rugby, and GAA) had told the committee they “could not survive” if drink sponsorship was removed.
Last month, rugby chief Philip Browne said there was no empirical evidence to show a ban on sponsorship reduced alcohol misuse. FAI boss John Delaney said there were no alternatives to alcohol sponsorship.
Several deputies yesterday raised concerns for local clubs who often fund their costs (for transport, insurance, and kits) by sponsorship from the local pub.
Dr William Flannery of the College of Psychiatry said that Irish figures showed alcohol was involved in 24% of all cases of self-harm, rising to 44% for males.