Sunday, 2 October 2016

Is the drinks industry the best educator on alcohol harm?

Obviously not, though it has for years assumed that role through its education arm


Fortunately there are objections.  Last year the Irish Times reported that:

"The alcohol industry-funded group Drinkaware has developed teaching material for teachers and youth workers about responsible drinking.

However, following a meeting with the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland and the Alcohol Health Alliance group, Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan said she would ask schools not to engage with or promote any such material.

A spokesman for Ms O’Sullivan confirmed that a circular would be issued to schools setting out this position shortly, while the department would not engage with industry-sponsored activity".

Senator to the rescue

This was also supported by Senator Jilian van Turnhout  who writes that 

"The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland said how the industry decided in 2014 to refocus its initiatives in the education space and to concentrate activity on It currently is establishing Drinkaware as an organisation whose work will be modelled upon the influential UK Drinkaware Trust. Unfortunately, if one looks at independent evaluations of Drinkaware in the United Kingdom, one concludes that it is not a model we wish to see in our schools. It has not come out well from an evaluation. Not surprisingly, the drinks industry believes it is excellent, which makes me even more worried about it.

Students reject stereotypes

In higher education the Irish Students Union has also spoken out.

"There is a consistent trend for drunkenness among young Irish people, and harmful drinking is highest among 18- to 24-year-olds, says Laura Harmon in the Irish Times .

The human costs are shocking – alcohol is a factor in more than half of all suicides and in 41 per cent of deliberate self-harm – that’s in a context where suicide is the leading cause of death for Irish men aged 18-24.

The alcohol industry, of course, is adamant that alcohol is not the problem – it produces a high quality, legal product. The fault, the industry’s campaigns imply, lies with the drinkers, who in essence can’t be trusted to drink sensibly. The problem is not with the company making the product which people abuse, but always with the out-of-control people who abuse the product.

The use of the phrase “out of control” is typical of the industry’s approach of attributing the serious problems associated with its products on a “minority” who we are told drink “irresponsibly’, as opposed to the “vast majority” of “responsible” drinkers.This flies in the face of all the evidence and is at odds with the reality in Ireland. The Health Research Board found last year that more than half of 18- to 75-year-old drinkers were classified as harmful drinkers and that 75 per cent of all alcohol consumed in Ireland in 2013 was through binge drinking.

Young people model their drinking behaviour on the attitudes and actions of those they see around them, as well as being influenced by alcohol marketing. They are a product of their environment and we have allowed an environment to be created that is saturated with alcohol.

Alcohol marketing

Alcohol marketing is a powerful and sophisticated influence on young people’s drinking behaviour and expectations, increasing the likelihood that they will start to drink at an earlier age or drink more if they are already using alcohol – which most Irish children start doing at the age of 14 or 15.

It is essentially incompatible with the objectives of the alcohol industry to seek to regulate drinking. The objective of alcohol companies is, by definition (and legal obligation in the case of publicly listed companies), to generate maximal profit from their business activities. Harm from alcohol is a public health issue, which is fundamentally at odds with the business objectives of the industry.

That conflict is obvious and damaging to the credibility of the Drink Aware and Role Models campaigns – it’s not carping to point that out – it’s a statement of logic and common sense to say so. It’s very clever for alcohol companies to seek roles for themselves as defenders of public health and it’s crazy for that role to be accepted. 

We aren’t the only people saying so.  The World Health Organisation’s 2001 Stockholm Declaration on Young People and Alcohol stated: “Public health policies concerning alcohol need to be formulated by public health interests, without interference from commercial interests.” This is supported by Alcohol Action Ireland and the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland, among others".

Laura Harmon is president of the Union of Students in Ireland

Full article at Irish Times