Thursday, 31 March 2011

Teenage deaths rise. Is alcohol regulation in Ireland safe in the industry's hands?

This week the British government is debating whether to follow France in limiting advertising of alcohol in order to stem the alarming rise in alcohol-related teenage deaths.  The BMJ reports that 23% of teenage deaths (nearly two per day) in the UK are attributable to alcohol, fuelled by what the editor calls "two pressing and uncontested problems: the excessive drinking of young people and their massive exposure to alcohol advertising".

Further research by Gerard Hastings of Stirling University on The Failure of Self Regulation tells us that advertising, pricing and marketing have a large influence on the growth in drinking and on teenage drinking in particular, echoing similar findings in a report by the Health Promotion Unit of the Irish Dept. of Health and Children in 2001.  Summing up the received wisdom from research and health advisors, Trish Groves, Editor of the BMJ writes that "health and societal costs of alcohol misuse are best prevented through legislation on pricing and marketing.... It is time to put away the rhetoric, popular with the drinks industry, that alcohol misuse is largely an individual problem best avoided and managed through education, counselling, and medical treatment."  



The need for alcohol regulation is clear in Ireland too, where unsafe drinking levels exceeds those of the UK.  But efforts by charities, health groups and academics to get together with governments to do something about this have been frustrated by the alcohol industry's more powerful lobbying.  In the UK and Ireland the Portman Group, which represents the larger alcohol producers, monitors its own advertising standards and delivers alcohol education through its Drinkaware Trust, drinkaware.ie and the Irish group MEAS (Mature Enjoyment of Alcohol in Society Ltd).  MEAS 's members include well known names such as Diageo, Heinekin and Irish Distillers but claims to have "no economic purpose and is operationally independent from drinks industry companies".  However, according to research by Rob Baggott for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation,  insiders think that the Portman group simply "enables the companies to dispel suspicions, appear caring and satisfy shareholders that it is dealing with the long-term potential threats to its business such as anti-industry campaigns and increased government regulation".

The report quotes one respondent as saying : “The industry proved to be very influential during the review of alcohol strategy. Initially, before the politicians really got involved, much was left to the civil servants and an expert group. Problems began when the politicians got involved. Industry lobbied them behind the scenes about their concerns regarding the strategy. The strategy then began to move away from the evidence base and [became] more aligned with the industry’s perspectives”.


In UCD's Sociology Lecturer Kieran Allen's book The Corporate Takeover of Ireland*, he describes a similar situation in Ireland:  "...in 2005 the industry gained access to key decision makers resulting in the scrapping of the Alcohol Products Bill"  which had been intended to address the issue of alcohol sales.  MRPA Kinman, a PD-linked PR company whose CEO was at the time the husband of the then Minister for Health Mary Harney, successfully lobbied for the industry.  Lobbying also took place "through Junior health Minster Sean Power, who also happened to be a publican."

Allen continues:

 "Industry lobbying was also effective in drawing up codes of practice.  Journalist Fintan O'Toole describes how the new voluntary code for advertising alcohol in cinemas was written by none other than Carlton Screen Advertising. O' Toole writes that 'The Department of Health were so subservient to industry that they even used the same grammatical errors as the original version supplied by the company!"

Meanwhile drinkaware.ie is doing funny things with the concept of alcohol awareness.  It's subliminal message appears to be 'do drink alcohol'.  On St Patrick's day,  for example,  their advice as reported in the Irish Times was effectively for people to eat and drink all day, or as they put it "imbibe on St Patrick’s Day" "starting the day with a decent meal" , "have something to eat too", "eat between drinks" and for people to "pace themselves".  In the implied expectation that readers taking this advice were going to binge drink it also  advised "not to drive the morning after".

That drinkaware.ie should seem to be endorsing a binge is consistent with its published advice.  Drinkaware.co.uk  refers to the NHS definiton of bingeing as "drinking more than double the daily recommended units of alcohol in one session" (ie bingeing is more than three pints of beer for men, two glasses of wine for women). Drinkaware.ie instead focuses on the "disagreement over what is called binge drinking" and tells us that if we drink "over the course of an evening of eating and socialising it is clearly inappropriate to equate it with a binge".  So if we drink to excess with friends it's alright then?

When challenged about the effects on young people of mass advertising the alcohol industry points to its advertising code which includes an agreement not to portray young people who drink as attractive or socially successful.  The current drinkaware.ie TV information film, in the opinion of this author, cleverly undermines the code by doing just that.  Showing mock CCTV footage, several scenarios of  good looking, happy young people fall about with friends in tow accompanied by a soundtrack of laughter and upbeat music.  One of them falls down a flight of stairs, is helped up again and walks away without injury.  The info-ad ends with a nod to the dangers of what has been shown: a shot of a disapproving, middle-aged couple witnessing an unconvincing brawl in a hospital waiting area with a down-beat, counter-point voice-over asking  "Still think thats all just a bit of a laugh?"  The latter does little to cancel out the impression of mildly questioned, drink-fuelled fun we've just seen.  It's as if the question itself is intended to be a party-pooper - it's so ambiguous in the context.  

While the industry assumes credit for investing in this kind of educational material, the amount spent on advertising far outweighs it.   In UK figures the industry invested £5 million over three years on education, but as Spinwatch reports this 'falls short of Alcohol Concern's belief that £20 million a year would be needed for the trust to fulfil its responsibilities'.  By contrast the UK drinks industry spent between £600m and £800m on marketing in 2004 with estimates that of this total, £200-250m was spent on advertising'. 

So given the rise in teenage drinking and deaths, should we be restricting alcohol advertising further as in the UK ?  According to the College of Psychiatry of Ireland we shouldn't be advertising it at all. "The negative impact that early alcohol use has on the developing teenage brain has never been clearer " said Dr Bobby Smyth of the College of Psychiatry of Ireland in September 2010.  "Alcohol advertising is one of the strategies by which the drinks industry as a whole stimulates alcohol use in the country.  We think it would be better to take our foot off that particular accelerator and to terminate all advertising and sponsorship for the moment."

Monday, 28 March 2011

Irish DJ Prendeville says it was the alcohol

Nobody envies disc jockey Neil Prendeville the mortification of his headline grabbing 'lewd-act-on-a-plane' tag. The embarrassing circumstances of his fall from grace have had one healthy consequence in this instance: they put the country's usually secret shame about both masturbation and booze on the front pages.  It is now almost a right of passage for a certain type of celebrity to own up to having a problem with alcohol or drugs, but it still remains a major taboo for most of the rest of us. Treatment facilities and support groups are shrouded in anonymity - as if there was a big, sober society beyond them that had nothing to do with excessive consumption.
 
The Irish Examiner has reported that 'Mr Prendeville blamed his lewd behaviour on alcohol, describing himself as "an alcohol abuser"'.  However, a point going unremakred is that until it caused him to expose himself on the plane, causing us all to recoil in horror when we read about it, Prendeville's drinking up to that point had been a matter of patriotic, commercial duty.  The night before the incident he had been promoting tourism on behalf of the Cork region at Richard Corrigan's restaurant, Bentley's, in London.  The event, according to the Sunday Tribune 'descended into a lengthy drinking session'.  Nothing more relevant to persauding travellers and business people from abroad that we are a competent, able nation who are serious about recovery?   After the incident on the plane became public Prendeville's solicitor, acting for Prendeville and himself the owner of a conviction for drink-driving, attempted to sue The Sunday Tribune.  

In the fifties an American sobriety compaigner approached the Dublin hospitals to start a support group for alcoholics. He was told 'there are none in Ireland'.  Hardly surprising then that levels of alcoholism have continued to grow and that denial about its true extent is still rampant. As discussed elsewhere in Gargle Nation, the Health Research Board's 2009 report estimates that 2.2 million of us drink to dangerous levels each year – more than half the adult population. The World Health Orgnaisation reports that Irish men drink an average of 26.5 litres of pure alcohol per year (more than twice the European average), and Alcohol Action Ireland report that 'alcohol-related problems cost Ireland an estimated €3.7 billion in 2007: that’s a cost of €3,318 on each person paying income tax in Ireland...plus €1.2 billion of our health budget and €1.18 billion for alcohol-related crime'. Individuals are seeking treatment in growing numbers and an estimated 10% of the adult population are thought to be alcoholics.

In the face of evidence linking alcohol abuse to suicide and child abuse, we refuse as a nation to come out and deal with it. The government avoids what the Health Research Board calls an 'urgent need for the introduction of a co-ordinated national alcohol strategy'. No wonder, when leading public figures and politicians still choose to hide their own problems presumably to avoid the stigma and social taboo that too many of us attach to 'problem drinkers'. And just as Taoiseach Bertie Ahern spectacularly fuelled the property bubble with tax breaks, so his government responded to the growing alcohol problem by approving an increase in the number of sales outlets by 70%, and an extension to opening hours. Similarly Mary Harney as Minister for Health caved in to pressure from the alcohol industry to shelve the legislation that would have curbed rocketing sales.  The incoming government has an oppportunity to do better though their published programme for government remains disappointtingly silent on the alcohol problem.
 
Neil Prendeville clearly has a lot riding on rehabilitating his reputation and has more than likely had PR advice on how to ride out the storm.  He appeals for forgiveness while putting the blame squarely on the booze.   Whatever his motive his candour could be a catalyst for positive change and few people with any sense of compassion or honesty cannot feel some sympathy for him.  How long will it be before Enda Kenny is prepared to stand up and say 'I am the Toaiseach, my country is an alcoholic, and I've come for help'
 
 

Monday, 21 March 2011

Ming Flanagan - cannabis, alcohol and double-standards in Ireland

In war the truth is the first caualty. In the war on drugs, hypocrisy is the first weapon. Ming Flanagan proves one thing: you can smoke cannabis, hold down a job and be a popular public representative. Others prove the opposite of course but what is concerning is that the 'Ming should be arrested' debate applies standards to cannabis use that are not applied to alcohol and vice versa. This is presumably because one is legal and therefore respectable and the other is illegal and therefore not respectable. Fair enough when discussing a legislator breaking the law, but chief witness for the prosecution Cllr. John Coonan (FF) also plays the health card.


Ming  Flanagan


As the originator of the 'arrest Ming' debate, Cllr. Coonan of Kilkenny tells us he was ”horrified” by the election of Deputy Flanagan and said “It would be remiss of me as a former health care employee, if I didn't express my reservations about [a] candidate who expressed the view publicly and on public record that he grows illegal drugs and smokes cannabis'.  Illegal yes - but on health grounds the Cllr. should surely be making as much fuss about the effects of alcohol use as of cannabis. Yes, marijuana does have serious health disbenefits, and studies linking its long term use to depression and psychosis are many and convincing. For example a 2009 University of Melbourne study conludes that 'The prevalence of mental illness amongst males using cannabis frequently is predicted to be 14.3% to 14.8%. In comparison, otherwise similar males who have never used cannabis are predicted to have a prevalence of mental illness of 8.0%. In other words, mental illness is almost twice as likely for cannabis smokers.

In terms of damage to lives cannabis also has fewer social consequences than alcohol.  Cannabis use is, for example, far less frequent in Irish society (approximately one in every 175 adults is using cannabis on a daily or almost daily basis according to the National Advisory Council on Drugs in Ireland) - whereas 80% use alcohol (WHO) and 10% of those are thought to be alcoholics.  Alcohol use has been linked by the Irish Youth Justice Service in 2009 to 85% of youth problems and 50% of crime. In 2009 the Health Research Board published a study which conluded that:

“Alcohol-related social problems, such as violence, public disturbance, poor work performance and family problems, are imposing a serious burden on Irish society."
The report includes an analysis of data from the Garda PULSE system which reveals a 30% increase in alcohol-related offences between 2003 and 2007. And the Marin Institute reports that 66% of domestic violence cases, 40% of rapes and 28% of child suicides are linked to alcohol abuse. Overall one in four people are likely to affected by alcohol related crime at some point in their lives.

The argument that cannabis should be legalised because alcohol is legal does not really hold water in this light.  But spare us at least the 'shock' and 'horror' at the use of illegal drugs until we have fully acknowledged and addressed the problems with the legal ones. As the Spanish used to say to the English, we will worry about abusing bulls when you stop abusing children.

Motes in eyes job if ever I saw one.

Cannabis NI http://www.cannabisni.com/republic-of-ireland-cannabis-news/1951-councillor-demands-that-state-should-prosecute-ming
Safer Choice.org Marijuana vs Alcohol Research http://www.saferchoice.org/content/view/24/53/#injuries
Problems with Cannabis use http://www.voxeu.org/index.php?q=node/3997
Cannabis use Ireland http://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/11215/
Alcohol Facts Ireland http://alcoholireland.ie/?page_id=110
Alcohol and Youth Crime http://www.examiner.ie/ireland/alcohol-a-factor-in-50-of-youth-crime-96427.html
Health Research Board study of Effects of Alcohol http://www.hrb.ie/index.php?id=1000&tx_hrbpress_pi1%5BshowUid%5D=126
Alcohol and Crime http://www.marininstitute.org/alcohol_policy/violence.htm

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Bill Clinton, Ireland, Suicide and Sobering up.

When reaching for a hand to help you up, be careful whose hand it is.  In the week that Enda Kenny was making space in his diary for President Obama's Irish visit, Bill Clinton decided to visit some home truths on an annual gathering of Irish Americans.  Once again the old charmer hit the button, though this time not with flattery but with the sombre reflection that Ireland's economic crisis showed how 'a little arrogance' can carry 'the seeds of its destruction'.  Irony on ironies that America's first black president is lending credibility to the man from Mayo, and that any ex-President of the USA would lecture on the dangers of arrogance.

Nevertheless it's painful to think back to the days of Ireland boasting a 'world-class' everything and anything, when in reality Ireland is now world-class in some pretty ignominious areas, including debt, illiteracy, lack of transparency or equality, alcohol consumption and, as Clinton discussed with candour and feeling, one of the world's fastest growing suicide rates.

This last caused Clinton to reflect, as many others have, on the damaged psyche of a country in deep trauma.  Durkheim, father of sociology, began with a study of suicide that showed it to be not a random act of individual despair but a consequence and a measure of deeper societal failures.  On Irish suicide figures, Kate Holton wrote for Yahoo News in February that 'traditionally, Ireland has had a high rate of suicide among young people, but an increasing number of middle-aged men are killing themselves.  More than 500 suicides were recorded in 2009 -- a 24 percent increase from 2008 -- and many suspect the real number is much higher. More Irish people now commit suicide than are killed on the country's roads'.

It's a short stretch to view endemic alcoholism as a similar measure of national trauma, and this was clearly not far from Clinton's thoughts when he borrowed the language of sobriety to say “somehow, we need to help our friends there not just to recover but to keep their heads on straight while they are recovering.”  There is a clearer link between suicide and alcohol in recent research, a typical example being the October 2009 Lancet study which found that 'an association between unemployment and increased suicide and homicide also found increased deaths directly from alcohol abuse. The missing link is that concurrent alcohol intoxication could be a factor in as many as 65% of suicides'.  This makes tragic reading in our current predicament, and even more reason to heed Clinton's call to 'scrape away the barnacles which have clouded the vision of the place we love.”'

Irish Central  Irish Times The Lancet Yahoo News

Monday, 14 March 2011

Calling time on drunken St. Patrick's Day?

 'It is March 18th, the day after the day before.  Ireland is suffering from a giant hangover. Callers to radio shows throughout the day describe how the Irish have made a show of themselves in front of the whole world, and newsreaders are suggesting that the level of disgraceful drunkenness was unprecedented. Things have never been so bad'.   So said Three Monkeys in their 2005 blog.   Last year Fox news reported 'Cars torched, firefighters attacked, police bombarded and neighbors terrified: It was another fine St. Patrick's Day in Ireland, where inebriated mobs annually turn districts of Dublin and Belfast into a nightmare.  Police had arrested 346 suspected drunk drivers and 72 for dangerous driving, while eight people died in crashes.'  


So will 2011 be different?  Not in Illinois apparently, where the state is already planning to spend an estimated $800,000 dollars to fund the extra police patrols to target St. Patrick’s Day drunk driver follies.  At home Fionnuala Sheehan of Drinkaware.ie, the drinks industry's own 'sensible drinking' mouthpiece, confirms that “Public drunkenness and excessive drinking had been synonymous with St Patrick’s Day celebrations", but hopes that people will be "taking responsibility for their drinking and challenging anti-social behaviour " in 2011.  This is unlikely if Drinkaware's own advice to the Irish Times is any indication. People should, they say, 'imbibe on St Patrick’s Day' by starting the day 'with a decent meal and eat between drinks, avoid large rounds, pace themselves and not drive the morning after'.  Presumably that way they can drink as much as last year but get a good feed into the bargain.  The Times also tells us that 'publicans and off-licences have been told to act responsibly when it comes to selling alcohol to young revellers'.  Is that an improvement on acting irresponsibly when selling them drink? Somehow the industry can't quite bring itself to say sell less and drink less, can it?.  My mother always warned me about the dangers of self-regulation. 

 So we clearly have an image problem, or rather our image is a problem.  Brian Cowen's  singing fame aside,  surely the world is looking to Ireland for signs that it is having a  good hard sober look at itself in the mirror.  A big effort is needed to turn round an economy that still has the potential to destabilise an already rocky Europe.  If we want to date the international community again,  they will want to see a little more commitment and a fellow who looks like he can hold a job, not a thumbs up from a leery reveller.  Once we showed the world that we could party like there was no tomorrow.  Sadly, tomorrow has arrived and the place looks pretty bad in the daylight.


Positive plans for celebrating are possible though.  In Derry DIVERT, the Dove House-based alcohol awareness organisation, have linked with local indie label Practice Makes Perfect for a major alcohol free music event in Derry’s Nerve Centre on St Patrick’s Eve.   'A number of young service users within Divert will help organise the event and will be present with staff on the night to look after information stalls, distribute ‘stay safe’ goodies and give away spot prizes in a bid to raise  awareness of the project'. Read more in the Derry Journal.  Similar plans are under-way in Chicago where an alcohol free Patrick's day celebration is a regular fixture.  Are there any similar events planned in the Republic itself?  We have yet to see.  At least the Leinster House bar will be quiet while Minsters are working hard to rebuild those broken bridges abroad. 

Read:  http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,509662,00.html#ixzz1GayYrpcd Derry Journal http://bit.ly/eo9vTN Chicago citynews http://aol.it/f24BQi   Illinois drunk driving preps bhttp://bit.ly/hpucef  Sky news Irish drunkenness  http://fxn.ws/i9IrWE Three monkeys blog history of St Patrick's Day drinking.  http://bit.ly/Ke5at Irish Times Caution Urged http://bit.ly/hnnng7

Thursday, 10 March 2011

International Womens Day: How to Celebrate?

Women and Alcohol in Ireland: Internationl Women's Day March 8th 2011



On International Women's Day Gargle Nation reproduces below two articles assessing the state of alcohol consumption by women in Ireland. The simple fact is that it is rising. World Health Organisation stats had already identified a move towards wine drinking in Ireland as part of a general rise in consumption amongst those who drink. This could be interpreted as a rise in women's consumption, more likely to be wine at home than beer in the pub.  A corresponding rise in drinking by teenage girls was confirmed in the Alcohol Action Ireland report discussed by Director Fiona Ryan in interviews with Deborah Condon of Irish Health and Claire Murphy of the Herald below. 



The Alcohol Action report tells us that : “Recent years have seen profound changes in women’s drinking habits, the impact of which has shown a number of worrying trends. Since 1995, Irish teenage girls have been drinking as much and sometimes more than their male counterparts. In the same period, the proportion of Irish teenage girls discharged from hospital for alcohol-related conditions increased by almost a third".

A social analysis of the issues raised is in Sarah Carey's GUBU blog below.  As she writes, 'We insist on constructing some Brendan Behanesque romantic vision of the soulful Irish singing and dancing in high spirits with the necessary aid of spirits and whatever you’re having yourself.  It’s the famine, the poitin, the emigration and the poverty. No, it’s the weather, the British and the Catholic Church – the suppression of our sexual desires don’t you know. Does it matter anymore? We drink too much and its time to get over it'.

Pity that the Programme for Governement published this same week contains no specific recommendations for alcohol treatment or for addressing the issue of women and alcohol.  Any ideas out there, please feel free to post or comment.   The full Alcohol Action article can be viewed here.

Report by Deborah Condon on Irish Health.com

Alcohol-related conditions are on the rise among Irish women, Alcohol Action Ireland (AAI) has warned.
The national charity for alcohol-related issues has just launched a new information leaflet detailing what every woman needs to know about drinking.  "While for many of us, alcohol is something we enjoy, it's important to recognise the health risks that go hand in hand with drinking. Women are more affected by alcohol than men are - it's not sexist, it's a fact. We are smaller, we metabolise drink at a slower rate and it affects our vital organs more," explained AAI director, Fiona Ryan.

According to Ms Ryan, research shows that alcohol-related conditions are on the increase among women. For example, between 1995 and 2004, there was an increase of 29% in the proportion of Irish teenage girls under the age of 18 who were discharged from hospital for alcohol related conditions compared to an increase of 9% for boys.  Meanwhile, one in four women in Ireland discharged from hospital for alcohol related conditions were under the age of 30, compared to one in six men in the same age range.
"As women develop alcohol-related health complications earlier than men, it is likely that, if current trends continue, we will see higher numbers of middle-aged women at increased risk of dying as a result of alcohol-related conditions," Ms Ryan noted.

With an estimated four in 10 female drinkers in Ireland already drinking to harmful levels, it is vital that women be made more aware of the health-risks associated with alcohol, she added.  "Many women do not know that drinking just one standard drink a day - the equivalent of a small glass of wine or a half a pint of beer - can increase a woman's risk of breast cancer by 9%, with three to six drinks a day increasing the risk by as much as 41%," Ms Ryan explained.  She also pointed out that when it comes to drinking, women are more susceptible to tissue damage, such as cirrhosis of the liver, as well as alcohol dependence.  "Recent years have seen profound changes in women's drinking habits, the impact of which has shown a number of worrying trends. Since 1995, Irish teenage girls have been drinking as much and sometimes more than their male counterparts. In the same period, the proportion of Irish teenage girls discharged from hospital for alcohol-related conditions increased by almost a third," she said.

AAI is calling on the new government to take steps to reduce the harm caused to women by providing them with targeted action-driven information about alcohol misuse and the risks it poses to their physical and mental health.  The charity is also asking the new government to regulate alcohol marketing and introduce legislation around a ‘floor price' - a price below which alcohol cannot be sold.  The new information leaflet, Women and alcohol: Making the drink link, was launched ahead of International Women's Day (March 8). It can be viewed here.

woman-dinking in-shadow-435x94

40% of women here drink to harmful levels
 
By Claire Murphy

ALMOST half of women are drinking to harmful levels, a shocking new survey has found.  Research also found that female drinkers are now accounting for one quarter of all alcohol-related hospital admissions.
A study by Alcohol Action Ireland has discovered that 40pc of women drinkers in Ireland are drinking to harmful levels.  Director Fiona Ryan said that although alcohol is something many people enjoy, it was important to recognise the health risks that go hand-in-hand with drinking.

"Women are more affected by alcohol than men are -- it's not sexist, it's a fact," she said. "We are smaller, we metabolise drink at a slower rate and it affects our vital organs more."  Between 1995 and 2004, there was a 29pc increase in the number of Irish teenage girls under 18 discharged from hospital for alcohol-related conditions. This compares to an increase of 9pc for boys.  With four in 10 women drinkers in Ireland already drinking to harmful levels, Ms Ryan said it is vital now more than ever that women be made more aware of the health-risks associated with alcohol.

Ms Ryan said that drinking just one standard drink a day could be harmful for women and could increase the risk of breast cancer by 9pc. If a woman takes three to six drinks a day, the risk of cancer increases by as much as 41pc.  Ms Ryan said that since 1995, Irish teenage girls have been drinking as much and sometimes more than their male counterparts. "In the same period, the proportion of Irish teenage girls discharged from hospital for alcohol-related conditions increased by almost a third," she said.

Women who drink four or more drinks a day are five times more likely than non-drinkers to develop mouth, oropharynx and laryngeal cancers and eight times more likely to experience haemorrhagic stroke, Ms Ryan explained. And the director added that a man who drinks six or more standard drinks a day is 13 times more likely to develop cirrhosis of the liver compared to a non-drinker. But a woman needs to only drink four standard drinks a day -- about half a bottle of wine -- to increase her risk of developing cirrhosis to the same degree.


Also see Sarah Carey's full post from 2007 and extracts from John Waters column. 

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

A rare opportunity to agree with Kevin Myers?

Mr Myers doesn't dissapoint with his usual over the top ideas such as 'urination will be punished by making offenders, male and female, pass water into specially made 220-volt floor-sockets at the local garda station'.  But that's just him making the message fun, the old rascal.  The real issue he addresses is the embarrassing spectacle of paddy whackery that is St Paddy's Day. He writes that 'we all know the caricature is essentially correct. Our per-capita alcoholic consumption is exceeded by only a couple of central European states.  But what makes our figures worse is that we have a huge population that doesn't drink at all, so that those who do drink really do drink. Yet far from being ashamed at this achievement, it forms the heart of a really perverse national characteristic. We like to boast how much alcohol we consume'. 

Couldn't agree more.  Read him at the Indy on  http://bit.ly/etALL6

Deconstructing the FG/L Programme for Government Drug Strategy

Sadly politicians on the campaign trail hone one skill above others: the art of promising as little as possible while appearing to promise a lot.  Boozwatch uses its patented 'aspirationometer' and 'actionometer' to analyse the reality behind the rhetoric of the recent Programme for Government drug strategy. While laudably declaring 'support', 'impetus' and 'principles' for a drug strategy of 'real potential' to which they are 'committed' to 'renewed impetus to the fight against drugs', the strategy is liberally sprinkled with words such as 'where possible' and 'realistic', which are of course cash neutral and action-lite, even where the tone remains so gloriously upbeat.  Could do better.  The actual underlying nervousness about spending shows when  'in line with need' and 'subject to available resources' appear together in one sentence - nice but unnecessary to get both .  A clammy handshake like that is not encouraging.

If you are looking for real commitment in this relationship, 'support', 'integrate' and 'develop' get full marks but the lack of specificity is worrying, and looking at the fine print the action is all in those letters to front line service teams asking them to do more 'at local level'.  The same local level, we should remember, which has suffered a moratorium on recrutiment in administration and 15% cuts over the past two years against a tide of alcohol and drug consumption rising faster and at greater levels than 28 out of 30 European neighbours. 

The only specific idea is to 'update the out-dated drugs awareness programmes in schools'.  Will our strategy amount then to little more than a few hours tooling around with those powerpoint slides?  The other specific target is to 'reduce the flow of drugs' coming in the prison door, perhaps by reselling the confiscated merchandise to pay for extra tins of chum for the sniffer dogs?  Otherwise there is the worthy hope that we might 'assist drug users [into] community employment' without any real idea of how that might be achieved when the services designed to do just that have been so seriously cut.  A high point is 'increasing the number of needle exchange programmes and rehabilitation places across the country', sounding dangerously like a commitment, until you see the parenthesis that this is to 'target resources... to where it is needed most', which seasoned commentators will recognise is political speak for closing a few rural ones.  (NB. Note the idea of 'compulsory' rehabilitation slipped into this section. Worrying). 

So what is our new 'team' going to do?  Well  'every Government Department, Agency or task force responsible for implementing elements of the National Addiction Strategy will be required to account to the Minister for their budget annually and to demonstrate progress on achieving targets'.  Call me cynical, but that sounds a bit like a threat to cut services where socks are not firmly pulled up in a notoriously difficult area of community work.  Lastly, as boozwatch has repeatedly observed, we seem to be engaged solely in a war against 'drugs' when alcohol is the main culprit in terms of damage to lives, addiction and sheer scale of its contribution to social problems.  Where is the strategy on alcohol, or is the alcohol industry still playing a role in party and government funding these days?
Aspirationometer 93% Actionometer 7%

See the strategy for yourself on http://www.finegael.ie/upload/ProgrammeforGovernmentFinal.pdf 19-21.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Programme for Government 'largely aspirational' Examiner March 7th

The new Programme for Government just published contains many worthy objectives.   Addressing the homelessness problem, for example, particularly amongst the young, and tackling the increasing problems of drug and alcohol abuse, get a whole paragraph each!  Great to see them in there, but as the Examiner's Paul O Brien writes, these sections entitled "fairness" and "progress" 'are largely aspirational, and lump together areas of government which may have got chapters of their own were the economic circumstances different', instead getting 'relatively short shrift' in an agenda which makes a priority, unsurprisingly, of the economy stupid.

"Did you manage to think of anything? Me neither"

The drug and alcohol section of the programme makes no mention of funding, and rehashes those tired old cliches about working together and improving education.  Great, but what about the recent 15% cut to the funding of the Regional Drugs Task Force, the body which has the remit to do just that?  Enda may be a miracle worker, we have to wait and see.  This is certainly a loaves and fishes job. Will he be walking on water by Easter?

Read more at The Irish Examiner

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Brian O Connell discusses drunk date-rape song in today's Irish Times

In todays Irish Times sobriety supremo Brian O Connell discusses the Brian McFadden (formerly Westlife) song Just the Way You Are (Drunk at the Bar) with the infamous (and poorly scanning) line “take you home so I can take advantage and do some damage”.  To be fair to McFadden he has now decided to give all profits of the song to victims of sexual assault, so the public criticism of his lyric has been well made and taken.

In the campaign for more honest debate on alcohol this is a sort of victory then, though in O Connell's article he also touches on the fact that ' I’ve been to schools where strict guidelines are laid down about what can and cannot be discussed with students. I have been asked to restrict my conversation about aspects of alcohol. There is a reluctance to allow open discussion. Naturally, some subjects need to be tempered, but surely we adults have a duty to ensure teenagers get to question the national stereotype of the drunken Irish?'  Read on at http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/weekend/2011/0305/1224291349617.html (or on the Gargle Nation newsfeed left column).

Friday, 4 March 2011

Alcohol policy in tatters as health experts revolt, Guardian Reports

The new UK government promised a fresh approach to alcohol sales and invited Alcohol Concern and leading health experts to contribute.  Documents seen by the Guardian show that the resulting 'responsibility deal' will reflect the positive message of the industry, not a negative one about alcohol harm.  Health experts consider the actual concessions, including health information on beer mats and voluntary undertakings about advertising, to be little more than a figleaf.  The Guardian has the full story, with an interesting analysis of current trends in drinking in the UK which mirror those in Ireland. ie, that while drinking overall has declined a little, consumption patterns amongst drinkers have become more intense and a greater threat to health.  Interestingly, the company which had a private audience to lobby the relevant minister was our own Diageo.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/feb/16/alcohol-policy-health-experts-revolt

UK drinks pricing policy industry driven? Surely not.

John Harris explores the weakness and hypocrisy at the heart of  the UK governments drinks pricing policy.  Much like Mary Harney's aborted plans in Ireland after lobbying by the drinks industry, the UK governement is not going to upset this powerful lobby anytime soon, or give up on large tax revenues and possibly distress the supermarkets own powerful interests.  Read on http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/feb/21/alcohol-ecstasy-drinks-intoxicants  Guardian 21st Feb.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Jo Brand joins Its No Joke Campaign

Comedian Jo Brand joins Bill Bailey and Josie Long in providing a short personal view of the dangers of alcohol. These are part of the UK governments It's No Joke alcohol awareness campaign, highlighting in particular the dangers of teenage drinking. View them on the video links (left top) on GargleNation.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Alan Shatter's wife hits front pages with drink driving ban. Why?

Like a number of national dailys the Independent gave prominent space to the story of the likely future Minister's wife's automatic drink driving ban. 



Is the implication that this somehow shames Shatter, or suggests hypocrisy?  Isn't this really an unhelpful intrusion into what is a private matter, and likely to contribute to the 'taboo' which causes drink-related problems to be hidden, and therefore unaddressed?  Nobody (well perhaps with the shameful exception of two now unelected rural TD's) wants to condone drink driving - its obviously too dangerous. But anyone coping with similar family drink-related problems may well decide not to seek help for fear of the very public criticism it may get them.

Of more relevance is the new Minister's slow response to the news that one in eight Irish drivers is drunk at the wheel.  That is a matter worthy of far more atttention in the press.