Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Why Mayor Bloomberg and Jessie J are right: the business and reputational cost of alcohol to Ireland

Okay, so we are 9 billion in credit, and there are jobs too?   Not necessarily . "Current evidence from alcohol and other sectors suggests that declining consumption may not necessarily lead to job losses in the economy as a whole".  Chielfy of course, because money spent on alcohol is disposable income that people will then spend on other goods, creating other markets and other jobs.   And what of the cost of alcohol in terms of working days lost, health service costs and crime ? The European Union rates that at a staggering figure of up to €1,000 bn.  Not much of a return on the investment, then.

"Based on a review of existing studies, the total tangible cost of alcohol to EU society in 2003 was estimated to be between €79bn and €220bn, equivalent to 1.3% GDP, which is roughly the same value as that found recently for tobacco. The intangible costs show the value people place on pain, suffering and lost life that occurs due to the criminal, social and health harms caused by alcohol. In 2003 these were estimated to be between €150bn and €760bn".

So the cost to the European economy of alcohol is potentially over 100 times higher than its economic benefit.  And the cost to Ireland, where drinking is proportionally 20% above the european average, is arguably greater still.  As Alcohol Action Ireland put it, "it’s worth remembering that these costs are avoidable costs. According to the Chief Medical Officer of Ireland, a 30% reduction in alcohol-related harm would result in a cost saving to the Exchequer of €1billion. Meanwhile, alcohol-related harms cost each tax payer in Ireland an estimated €3,318 a year. Cheap alcohol in Ireland is fuelling a growing health and crime crisis that is costing us an estimated €3.7billion* a year in health, crime/public order and other ancillary costs, such as work-place absenteeism."

We could of course look at it much more cynically, as the RAND report to the EU did.  Noting that  "Population ageing is the main threat to the sustainability of European pension funds...a future reduction in the harmful effects of alcohol consumption may lower premature mortality and increase the number of people that reach retirement age. Alcohol users who die prematurely contribute to pensions funds but do not draw a pension." 

So we could work by day, get pissed by night and die conveniently young.  Or we could add up the reputational damage, the social cost and the huge drain of billions from our economy and grow up.


  1. "The intangible costs show the value people place on pain, suffering and lost life that occurs due to the criminal, social and health harms caused by alcohol."

    It's because it's fun and enjoyable, simple as that. I drank in my youth, I drink very little now, I don't regret it, I enjoy(ed) myself immensely. I was young, self-conscious, in a conservative country, the only method I found which helped me brake out of that was alcohol and narcotics, and let me assure you it was FANTASTIC! I may not have been the most edifying visage at certain moments, but so what? It's my life to live, not yours or anyone else's, in a time when our liberty is diminishing, longer work hours, less pay, more tax, no jobs, and a burdensome bailout like a big red cherry turd on top, why pick on one of the things that makes Ireland good, an ability to have fun?

    If you want to attack anything then address the issue of why people feel the need to escape this reality through narcotic experience? Why we invest so little in our young that we have more golf courses than playgrounds, that young teenagers have nothing to do except hang around street corners, that there exists an education system in this country so incredibly stressful and mind numbing I don't begrudge any Junior Cert. student the right to get utterly twisted on the day of their results?! (And I was attacked in the street by a group of them once)

    I'm unemployed, I rarely drink, I can't afford to go out. One of the few pleasures I have in life is being able to afford the occasional bottle of plonk or six pack, perhaps one out of every two weeks, and people such as the writer of this article have the arrogance to assume that just because they don't approve, it should be stopped, or somehow as a nation we should feel ashamed.

    It's very easy to pull out the stats on how much it costs fiscally, but what about the stats on how much people enjoyed themselves, Jessie J may have been appalled by the Trinity Ball but how many of those people she was appalled by woke up the next day and regretted it (I mean really regretted it, not "ow my stomach and head hurts")? Where are the figures for that? If I was to stab a guess it'd be "bugger all" it's my body as well as theirs, and if I want to "poison" myself once a fortnight then that's my business and mine alone.

  2. Further discussion of this article over on Politics.ie:


  3. Hi Seanan, thanks for your comment. I agree the civil liberty argument is important, but my argument is not to prevent adults drinking if they choose to, but to go back to safe regulation of the way alcohol is sold and marketed, which at the moment is out of control and is targeting young people very effectively. Alcohol is also a dangerous and addictive drug, and regulation is appropriate. See the Gargle Nation post on Teenage drinking and the falure of self regulation fyi. Also the cost to society of alcohol caused crime and illness referred to is not made up- these are reputable studies, and as adults I agree we shoud be putting effort into righting all of the issues which are bringing our society down. Alcohol is one player and I am doing my bit to highlight its role. There are of course others.