Public health not a luxury, says alcohol group

Government ministers raising objections to plans to scrap alcohol sponsorship for sports and arts events have been told by Alcohol Action Ireland: “Public health is not a luxury.”

Four ministers are understood to have raised concerns over proposals that would phase out alcohol sponsorship of sports and arts events, and also limit the advertising of alcohol on television and the internet.

It was claimed yesterday that Pat Rabbitte, the minister for communications; Leo Varadkar, the sport and tourism minister; Simon Coveney, the agriculture minister; and Jimmy Deenihan, the arts minister, had all voiced concerns over some of the proposals by the National Substance Misuse Strategy steering group.

Róisín Shortall, the junior health minister, has voiced support for a proposal to introduce minimum pricing of alcohol, but it appears some of her Cabinet colleagues are worried other recommendations from the group could impact on tourism, sport and the arts at a time when finding and securing sponsorship has seldom been more difficult.

Fiona Ryan, the head of Alcohol Action Ireland, was “disappointed” to hear some ministers had expressed misgivings over the proposals at a time when alcohol addiction and related issues were costing the state.

“We are putting up obstacles before we have explored the issues,” Ms Ryan said.

Stressing the need to look at what she called the “ethical issues” related to alcohol sponsorship, Ms Ryan said: “Public health is not a luxury.

“Let’s call it straight — the main issue is alcohol sports sponsorship. The reason the drinks industry wants to sponsor sports is they want to access a young, predominantly male audience.”

Ms Ryan said that at one stage no one could have foreseen the dropping of tobacco sponsorship of arts and sports events but that had taken place.

“Sport was played before alcohol sponsorship,” said Ms Ryan. “We need to say what is it we are going to prioritise here.”

It is understood Mr Rabbitte’s concerns centre on the policing of a pre-watershed alcohol advertising ban on the internet and whether domestic broadcasters would be disadvantaged when other channels broadcasting in Ireland would not have to adhere to such a code.

“Their arguments are old, old, old arguments,” Ms Ryan said, adding that every national government was facing issues over policing advertising on the internet, which she said was “a free-for-all”.


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