Alcohol bill will save lives and reduce harm, says regional health forum member

Regional Health Forum

Member of Galway Healthy Cities - Galway Alcohol Committee

For over 650 days the Public Health (Alcohol ) Bill - a progressive piece of legislation designed to significantly and positively alter Ireland’s harmful relationship with alcohol – has languished in the Oireachtas and faced inordinate delay.

The Bill contains a range of modest measures on price, labelling, advertising and separation of alcohol products, designed to work together to reduce alcohol consumption in Ireland, so lessening alcohol related harm.

It will protect children, families and communities from alcohol related harms, and create an environment that supports a low risk approach to individual consumption.

Alcohol consumption in Ireland has grown threefold in two generations. In 2016, our consumption of alcohol rose by a further 4.8% to 11.46 litres of pure alcohol per capita, that’s is equal to 46 bottles of vodka, 130 bottles of wine, or 498 pints of beer.

Today, we face a growing chronic disease crisis as cancer, heart disease, liver disease and diabetes now accounts for the most of our ill-health and premature deaths - every day three people will die from alcohol related illnesses. This crisis places an extraordinary, and unnecessary, burden on our scarce health services and limited public resources.

The annual cost of alcohol related hospital discharges to the Irish exchequer: €1.5bn, that is 3% of all public current expenditure; €2.35bn, assessing a wider set of cost implications to other aspects of impact to current public expenditure in Justice, Children, Social Protection. Meanwhile, the crisis in our A&Es grows worse, as hard-working Doctors and Nurses grapple the nightly carnage stimulated from our high-risk consumption of alcohol.

Alcohol can contribute to the development of mental health problems as well as exacerbating pre-existing mental health difficulties. It can affect our ability to cope, manage and to overcome everyday stresses and significant life events. Alcohol is a factor in half of all suicides, and one third of self-harm cases, in Ireland.

The market will not resolve our problem with alcohol; the state must have the right to protect its citizens, especially its children - each year 60,000 children will inexcusably begin their, all too early, drinking careers.

International agencies and evidence-based research dictates that action must be taken to bolster Public Health initiatives that aim to curb our high-risk alcohol consumption, and where the interests of private economic forces collide with advancing public health we must be able to rebalance those rights to allow for pragmatic public intervention.

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