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Report calls for ban on alcohol sponsorship of sport and festivals

New restrictions on advertising and price increases are also among measures proposed by a Government-sponsored panel.

Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

THE DRINKS INDUSTRY should be barred from sponsoring sporting events, music festivals and other public gatherings, according to a new report from a Government-sponsored panel.

Price increases on alcohol and a ban on TV advertising before 9pm are also among measures proposed by the National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group in its final document.

The report, whose findings are likely to guide future Government policy, suggests that alcoholic drinks should be ‘structurally separated’ by a partition from food products in supermarkets. It also calls for new structures in the health system for earlier detection of potential alcohol abuse.

Other measures include a ban on cinema advertising of alcohol except in 18-rated films; and tight codes of practice for drink adverts in the print media.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Honohan said alcohol misuse had astronomical costs for the Irish health system. “Alcohol was responsible for at least 88 deaths every month in 2008,” he said.

It was a contributory factor in half of all suicides and deliberate self-harm, is associated with 2,000 beds being occupied every night in Irish hospitals and related illness cost the health care system €1.2 billion in 2007 with alcohol-related crime costing an estimated €1.19 billion in the same year.

The report has been welcomed by health minister James Reilly and junior minister Róisín Shortall. The ISPCC also said it was a step forward, adding that “excessive alcohol consumption is a child protection issue”.

However, drinks industry groups rejected some of its findings. MEAS (Mature Enjoyment of Alcohol in Society), an industry-sponsored body promoting responsible drinking, said its input had been excluded from the final report, which included contributions from a range of stakeholders and community organisations.

‘Missed opportunity’

“A number of the Group’s members were ideologically prejudiced against MEAS,” its CEO Fionnuala Sheehan said, adding that they were “unwilling to acknowledge the contribution of MEAS to tackling alcohol abuse”.

She said MEAS supported many recommendations, but the report’s approach to the regulation of alcohol sales and marketing was “ill-considered”.

The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland described the report as “a missed opportunity to address the very serious issue of alcohol misuse.”

It said the ban on drinks industry sponsorship “would be extremely challenging for national and local sporting organisations [...] while there would also be a serious decline in major cultural events, festivals, and concerts.”

More: Alcohol consumption down by 17 per cent over last decade>

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Michael Freeman

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