Alcohol Action Ireland’s comments come following a presentation by Heineken’s Maggie Timoney on Tuesday during which she said brewers have a “moral obligation” to make it “uncool to be drunk in Ireland”.
However, she expressed doubts that the provisions of the forthcoming Public Health Bill would reduce harmful drinking, suggested the industry should promote responsible drinking through advertising and awareness campaigns.
Conor Cullen of Alcohol Action Ireland said it believes the drinks industry is responding to the legislation because it fears the measures will see a reduction in profits.
“We have no issue with Heineken or anyone else trying to make being drunk uncool, as long as they are not trying to block public health measures at the same time,” said Mr Cullen.
“You cannot reduce the harm caused by alcohol abuse without reducing alcohol consumption. Alcohol companies seek to increase their profits, they have a legal obligation to their shareholders to do that. There is an inherent conflict of interest there.
“If the alcohol industry was genuinely interested in reducing the harm caused by alcohol and drunkenness then they would support the Public Health Bill rather than far less effective campaigns that are not a credible solution to the problem.”
Mr Cullen cited the World Health Organisation, whose director general Dr Margaret Chan previously stated “that member states have a primary responsibility for formulating, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating public policies to reduce the harmful use of alcohol”.
Dr Chan said: “In the view of WHO, the alcohol industry has no role in the formulation of alcohol policies, which must be protected from distortion by commercial or vested interests.
Mr Cullen also pointed to research commissioned by Alcohol Action Ireland and conducted by the Health Promotion Research Centre at NUI Galway, which found Irish children “are exposed to large volumes of alcohol marketing, which increases their likelihood of drinking alcohol and engaging in risky drinking behaviour”.
He said he believes the advertising of alcohol, even if responsible drinking is central to the message of such adverts, is not the solution to Ireland’s problem.
Ireland is fourth highest among OECD countries in amount of alcohol consumed per capita and second highest in the world for binge-drinking, according to the WHO.
“More alcohol ads are not the answer. The answer is legislation to protect children from alcohol-related harm,” said Mr Cullen.
The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill aims to reduce Ireland’s per capita alcohol consumption from 11 litres of pure alcohol per person aged 15 and over to 9.1 litres by 2020.
The main provisions of the bill are minimum unit pricing, health labelling of alcohol products, regulating advertising and sponsorship of alcohol products, and regulating their sale and supply in certain circumstances.