Drinks industry web diary fails to set a consumption limit

FIONNUALA Sheehan issued a vigorous defence of her drink aware website (Letters, August 11) following facts and opinions expressed by myself in a recent letter (August 4).

While I see the main site as little more than a public relations stunt by the drinks industry, I have particular issue with the drinks diary section of this website.

Ms Sheehan states that the purpose of this website is to promote responsible use of alcohol in young adults. Surely then she must beappalled at my revelation that users of her drinks diary facility receive absolutely no cautionary advice irrespective of how much alcohol they report consuming?

I have used this diary myself, entering fictitious information. I have input into “my” diary that I consumed more than 60 units of alcohol in one day, this being enough to cause acute alcohol poisoning and death. I received absolutely no warning regarding the dangers of my behaviour. I have input that I consumed in excess of 250 units of alcohol in a single week. Again I received no advice that this was excessive or unhealthy. If Ms Sheehan is serious about her desire to use this website to promote healthier drinking, then these gross deficiencies of the drinks diary indicate that she is failing miserably.

Rosemary Garth, another public relations expert employed by the drinks industry, also took issue with my letter (August 11).

She again has the audacity to state that the current guidelines on alcohol advertising are “strict”. I say again that the current guidelines permit the industry to advertise alcohol during programmes which are preferentially watched by children. How can she honestly view such a threshold as strict?

As a parent, I resent the fact that my children are exposed to hundreds of advertisements for alcohol each month. I fail to understand why the drinks industry wants to advertise alcohol during programmes which my children are more likely to choose to watch than myself. Among the children of Europe, the Irish are the heaviest drinkers. They spend more than €140m buying alcohol each year. Bombarding them with alcohol adverts may be the interest of the drinks industry, but it is not in our children’s interest. I remain profoundly sceptical of the drinks industry’s ability honestly to tackle alcohol abuse in Ireland.

Despite Ms Garth’s protestations, it is simply not in its financial interests for us to drink less. History has thought me to be cynical about the ploys of industries when information emerges that their product are harmful to health. As information emerged of the harm associated with tobacco and asbestos in the 20th century, both industries launched robust and effective defences. This involved attacking the science and the scientists in the first instance. The next phase was to propose “strict” self-regulation. These campaigns were orchestrated by public relations firms. Big Tobacco even offered to fund and deliver campaigns to stop children smoking. When these interventions were independently evaluated it emerged that children who attended the “prevention” programme demonstrated an increased likelihood of commencing to smoke. What a surprise. In the cases of cigarettes and tobacco the policies of misinformation kept the public and politicians confused for decades, thereby ensuring regulation was postponed, but also ensuring thousands of lives were needlessly lost. There are more than 1,500 alcohol-related deaths each year in Ireland. It’s time we took this seriously.

Dr Bobby Smyth

Clinical Lecturer in Addiction

Department of Public Health and Primary Care

Trinity College, Dublin

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