In today’s Irish Times, Monday July 16th 2012, the editorial comment looks at Rósín Shorthall’s chance to “make a lasting impact and improve public health” if she introduces a minimum price on alcohol and thereby reduces binge drinking. The piece also refers to the fact that “An Oireachtas committee suggested some months ago that online purchases of alcohol should be banned…”  Hmm, well I think it’s pretty obvious where I stand on that… “and supermarket and garage sales phased out.” Hmm, again I’m not sure. On the face of it that looks good for someone specialising in wine, eliminates a bit of the competition, eh? But should this be applied across the board; should all medical products, paracetamol, aspirin, cough and cold remedies be then only available in chemists? Bread only from a bakery and meat from the butcher? In an ideal world I’d say yes but I don’t think this is practical anymore.

I’d like you to please, please have a think about that. If you would like to continue being able to buy your wine online or in the supermarket could you please, please make your voice heard? Write to your local paper, your T.D.? Please.

When I argue for a minimum price on alcohol many around me say, inevitably, “well you would though, wouldn’t you?” but in fact a minimum price won’t affect me in a business sense at all, we are not competing there, we do not want to compete there. I have teenage children and that is why I would like to see the introduction of a minimum price. However I don’t think it is nearly enough. I am very concerned with the way we as a nation have at times taught, and at others observed without intervening, our children as they start drinking. From the parents who let their children have a glass or two before going to the teen disco to the ones who turn a blind eye “ah, it’s only [insert drink of preference here]”. We have a problem with our attitude towards alcohol in this country but price alone is not going to fix that. We have managed to turn drink-driving into a shameful thing, but it took a generation to filter down. Of course we need to be open with our children, to give them all the facts, and some choices too. But is that enough? I started smoking while still at school. I knew that cigarettes were harmful and addictive but not in any real sense – I was young, and death, cancer and the like were miles down the track, and anyway smoking was cool. I’m happy to say I don’t smoke any more but I don’t honestly know if adults lecturing me more forcefully would have dissuaded me from ever starting. However, so far at any rate, my children don’t seem to think smoking is as cool as I did. This is no doubt due to the banning of smoking on TV – no cool product placing –  and the recent banning of smoking in public. But a ban on sales or price hike alone is not necessarily going to work. At the risk of stating the obvious Prohibition didn’t work. Have a look at another recent Irish Times article , in particular this quote from the annual report of the charity Trust:

 in 2011 the very obvious increased easy availability of high-alcohol content products in supermarkets and eastern European shops added to at times unpredictable behaviour of some people using the services of Trust.

“This obviously led to increased potential for violence. Alcohol hand-wash from hospitals also emerged as an easy available source.”

“Alcohol hand-wash from hospitals” ?? How can we put a minimum price on that – or even introduce hours of business for the sale of such items?

I have to be careful here, I work in the trade and don’t want to start a back-biting session but as a parent I struggle to see how “alcopops” have, in any way, been a positive contributing factor to this country. They can only be aimed at young drinkers and with the alcohol content of up to 12% this is not a good thing (interesting to note when they first appeared this was at 5%). I think they are universally accepted as being alcohol for those who don’t like the taste of alcohol.

It’s not good enough to say to anyone under 18 “alcohol = bad” there has to be a better, non-preachy way to approach the subject. I think that the Ballymun Youth Action Project’s ‘Fact or Fiction: A study of attitudes to alcohol and related issues among young people in the Ballymun area‘ should be required reading, especially for any parent and all secondary school students and their teachers.

Here are some other claims, counter-claims and points that I found interesting, and links to the various articles on them:

Liver disease – levels in this country often put forward by the anti-alcohol lobby as evidence for alcohol damage, but perhaps it’s not just that simple. Ireland has the 2nd largest consumption of soft drinks in the world after the U.S. and did you know that soft drinks cause liver damage? Have a read here.

We are all now aware of  hereditary cancers, but what bout the alcohol gene: could this explain why we have such a high rate of alcoholism in this country? And how many of us were ever told to be careful of this, that if your grandparent or parent, uncle or aunt were an alcoholic it’s possible your chances could be higher too?

Violence and alcohol is what has recently propelled this debate into the spotlight with the recent Swedish House Mafia concert in the Phoenix Park being particularly noted, this is a quote from a piece by Karen Birchard for medical journal The Lancet in December 2000

It also emerged last week that senior doctors had met with the [Irish] Prime Minister in August to express their concern at the level of late night violent injuries showing up in casualty departments. The doctors said they were concerned at the levels of stimulant drinks and alcohol being consumed in many of these cases.

You can read the full piece here, and while I do not want to take away from the fact that alcohol was the main contributory factor we do need to look at how, when combined with other substances, its effect can be much worse.

added on 01 August 2012:

In the Drinks Business as it appeared their website 31 July 2012:

Alcohol Mixed with Energy Drinks “Potentially Fatal”