Drinks industry slams ‘misleading’ and ‘inaccurate’ department of health briefing ahead of alcohol bill debate

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Fact: alcohol consumption in Ireland is falling
Fact: advertising restrictions are not proven to work
Fact: €8.5 million for Irish cultural events is at risk
Fact: structural separation will cost each store €20,000

The Department of Health has been criticised for “misleading” Senators ahead of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill being reintroduced to the Seanad tomorrow (Wednesday, 8th November 2017). The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland said that the Department’s Fact vs. Fiction about the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015, sent to all Senators, plays “fast and loose with the truth” and “is further evidence that the debate about the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill is not rooted in facts or evidence.”
ABFI said it is surprised to see the Department of Health contributing to the “fake news” around this subject.

Alcohol consumption
In the Fact vs. Fiction document, the Department says it is a “myth” that alcohol consumption in Ireland is falling, when in fact Ireland’s alcohol consumption has been falling since it peaked in 2001. Ireland’s alcohol consumption fell from 14.440 litres per adult in 2001, to 11.240 litres per adult in 2016.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), alcohol consumption in Ireland has declined by 25 per cent since 2005, with Ireland falling significantly from a ranking of 9th to 18th on alcohol consumption from 2005 to 2016.
Furthermore, the Department of Health uses incorrect figures for alcohol consumption in the document, stating that 11.46 litres were consumed per adult in 2016. This figure is based on the 2011 census rather than the 2016 census. Earlier this year, the CSO published a revision to the earlier population figures. The correct figure is 11.240 litres per adult for 2016.

Advertising restrictions
In the Fact vs. Fiction briefing, the Department indicates that the proposed advertising restrictions will lead to a decline in consumption. In fact, the evidence shows that this may not be the case.
In a report commissioned by a number of Irish media companies, economist Jim Power carried out an extensive economic analysis of similar advertising restrictions in other jurisdictions. The report found that there was no evidence to link restrictive advertising with reduced consumption of alcohol by both adults and young people. In fact, Jim Power goes as far as to say that it is very questionable if the benefits to be derived from a ban on advertising would outweigh the costs.
Since a similar advertising ban was introduced in Norway, consumption has remained static. Meanwhile, in Mediterranean wine-drinking countries, average consumption fell by more than 30 per cent between 1980 and 2000, despite the fact that most wine countries have fewer restrictions on alcohol advertising, marketing, and distribution. The Jim Power report looks at the evidence of 17 OECD countries including Switzerland, Greece, Italy and Denmark and fails to find conclusive evidence that advertising bans reduce consumption.

Structural separation
In the Department’s Fact vs. Fiction note, it states that the estimated cost of €1,350 to €5,900 per store to implement structural separation requirements was provided by NOFFLA, the representative group for off-licences. According to the Responsible Retailers of Alcohol in Ireland (RRAI), off-licences are exempt from the legislation proposed in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill and stand to gain a competitive advantage if the legislation in its current form is introduced.

The RRAI say that the cost of implementing the structural separation requirements would be approximately €20,000 per store and many multiples of this figure for larger stores. The RRAI cost estimates have been verified by independent practitioners in the field.

In Fact vs. Fiction, the Department says that the sponsorship of cultural and music events “will be prohibited three years after the commencement of the provision and only in the case of an event where the majority of participants or competitors are children, where an event is aimed particularly at children or where it involves driving or motor vehicles.”

In reality, the punitive new advertising restrictions proposed in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill would effectively mean a ban on sponsorship, by decreasing the volume and value of sponsorship partnerships for drinks companies. This is due to the knock-on effect of these advertising restrictions. Currently, the drinks industry provides almost €8.5 million in sponsorship to over 50 arts and cultural events around the country which is essential to their viability and sustainability.=
Patricia Callan, Director of Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland said:

“A balanced approach to the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill is required. The drinks industry fully supports measures to target alcohol misuse and underage drinking, but it is critically important that these measures are targeted, proportionate and proven to work.

“This Facts vs. Fiction document illustrates the fact that the implications of the Alcohol Bill haven’t been fully considered due to the lack of consultation with the drinks industry. It shows not only a lack of balance in this debate, but that the Department of Health is trying to influence Senators with misleading information and spin.

“The drinks industry has continued to highlight that certain measures in the Alcohol Bill are not targeted or evidence-based. This means that they are unlikely to be effective in reducing alcohol misuse and will have unintended negative consequences on jobs and businesses across the country.

“These very real concerns must be considered and addressed.”
Media queries:
Colin Taylor, Q4PR, 0864671748