Booz in the Nooz Archive

Live footage from Ireland's First Alcohol Free Comedy Club

'Ireland's First Alternative Alcohol Free Comedy Club was full to the rafters and a roaring success!' tweeted Dil Wickremasinghe, founder of Dublin's new club.  We had 'great acts, great audience & a great venue, plus a full house'.  Hosting Ireland's first alternative alcohol-free comedy club, Accents Lounge Dublin offered 'the most fun you can have with your clothes on' at the opening night, Monday 5th September.

As Dil writes about the new club, 'In addition to being Ireland’s first alcohol-free comedy club we hope to showcase the true diversity of new talent that often does not feature on the main stages. So not only are we going to help change the Irish drink culture but we are also going to break down barriers through humour – which incidentally was the reason why I got into comedy in the first place!"

The opening night featured comedian Steve Cummins, who has performed in every major venue throughout Ireland and at the Edinburgh festival.  He is also a regular contributor to Hot Press magazine and other publications.  Prior to turning professional, Steve worked with the homeless, juvenile offenders and adolescent gang members from the Projects in Chicago.  Be warned, 'some of what he says is contentious, some offensive but it’s nearly always funny. Except when he’s trying to be sexy. Then it’s borderline creepy'. 

Dil also blogs about the serious side of alcohol, a drug which has burrowed deep into the Irish culture.  'As a new comer to Ireland I wanted to learn about Irish culture but little did I know I had to learn about Irish drink culture as well! During the promotion of the gig we have come across polar opposite opinions about the concept of an alcohol-free comedy club. Some actually think it’s completely preposterous and will not work as I was told by one individual “this is Ireland, we need our drink to have a good time”.  Fortunately the many established alcohol free pubs, clubs and night -clubs of Dublin have already show that's not the case.

Back to the comedy.  The club meets on the first Monday of each month, and the second night is set for Monday 3rd October at 7.00 pm at  Accents Lounge at 23 Stephen Street Lower Dublin 2.  The first night 'even had people sitting on the floor' so 'be early or you might be disappointed'.


The alcohol labelling war continues

Trying to look responsible while not actually being so is a tough job, but the Portman group does it well.  The prize is a big one: the opportunity to justify government support for industry 'self-regulation' of alcohol health issues, which is as convincing as allowing foxes to regulate hen houses. It was the beginning of the end for the tobacco industry when cigarette packets started displaying health warnings, so the alcohol industry is doing its bets to put off that day. 

However, its previous efforts at 'responsible labelling' led to what an independent report found to be just 15% compliance with standards.  Alcohol Concern found it to be more like 4%. But rather than stand aside the Portman Group is having another go.  A new press release confirms: "The Portman Group has today confirmed how the alcohol industry will deliver and monitor its commitment to provide responsible drinking information on 80 per cent of alcohol labels on UK shelves by 2013".

Even if we believed them, the code itself is inadequate or under threat.  It offers only three requirements (the rest are voluntary).  Firstly, the alcohol content should be displayed (not that it is accurate).  Secondly the Chief Medical Officers’daily guidelines for lower-risk consumption must be set out, but those are currently being reviewed by an advisory board on which the industry itself sits - no doubt in time for the 2013 deadline on labeling.   And thirdly the labels must say that alcohol is unsafe while pregnant, which of course implies that if you are not pregnant then its ok.  What is not required is any health warning of the kind advocated by health groups or likely to make any impact on drinking habits.  Instead, as the Portman press release puts it, companies are 'encouraged to include a reference to the Drinkaware website and a message such as ‘please drink responsibly’.  

There is also the issue of where the labels are displayed.  Tesco thoughtfully noticed that if the label is at the back you won't see it.  Last year it very responsibly offered to move 'information on alcohol units from the back label of the pack to the front in order, it said, to “help consumers make responsible decisions” about drinking'.  Who could object?  Well apparently the Portman group.  David Poley, Portman Group chief executive, said: “Tesco’s announcement is interesting but we see no need for everyone to put the unit alcohol content on the front of the container.  At present, it tends to be displayed on the back alongside other health-related information such as the Chief Medical Officer’s advice on responsible drinking.  It might be argued that it is more useful to keep this information together than move the unit content to a prominent, but lone, position.”

A label you can't see.  Nice one.


Gerard Depardieu & Neil Prendeville share a problem

Shock jock Neil Prendeville grabbed the headlines with his leud act on a plane last year. It was the drink which drove me to it, he later confessed to a shocked nation, but he is now thankfully back at work with a more sober version of his radio programme. Now French film star Gerard Depardieu has joined the new mile high club, surprising passengers with a similar (though less shocking) exposure on a Paris to Dublin flight. CityJet were understandably coy about what happened.  When contacted by The Irish Times this afternoon, a spokeswoman confirmed there had been 'an incident' but said that it was 'against company policy to reveal the identity of the passenger involved'.

One of these passengers urinated in public

The company did reveal though that the flight was 'delayed for just under two hours while airline staff cleaned up' because the nameless person had “in effect, urinated in the plane”.  However, one shocked female passenger, reported by the Independent Woman, told France's Europe 1 radio exactly what happened. “Mr Depardieu, who was clearly drunk, called out to cabin crew repeatedly that he 'needed to piss' as the plane was heading to the runway. An air hostess told him he's had to wait 15 minutes until we were in the air and he could leave his seat. She told him there was nothing she could do until then and that he would have to hold it in. But he replied that he couldn't wait, then he just stood up and urinated on the floor.”

Was it the relaxed Gallic attitude to the urinal as immortalised in the drama Clochmerle?  Another explanation, if it wasn't the booze, is that the star was already in role as Obelix, ready for filming the fourth instalment of the Astérix and Obélix series, God Save Britannia.  All good publicity then for the Ballymakenny Gardens, which were chosen from a shortlist to host the production in Ireland, and 'likely to generate substantial revenue for the local economy', as the Drogheda Independent reported.  No publicity is bad publicity....perhaps.


New definition of addiction opens debate

Ireland has a lot to teach the world about alcohol, but perhaps not in the way it thinks. Having consulted 80 experts over four years The American Society of Addiction Medicine has published a new definition of addiction.  It confirms what, as the Los Angeles Times puts it, 'neuroscientists have been saying for years- that addiction is a chronic disease of the brain. There are stacks of studies to back up the chronic-disease theory – changes in brain circuitry, changes in the way that genes in the brain are turned on or turned off ...even after a person has given up a habit'. The new definition acknowledges the behavioral aspects of addiction, but concludes that “addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry”.  In other words addiction is not a matter of predisposition but is a condition caused by the consumption of addictive substances.

Professor Casey disagrees

'But just because something’s widely accepted professionally doesn’t mean it’s widely accepted out there in the world', the Los Angeles Times continues. Sure enough in Ireland, the new home of alcoholism, Professor Patrica Casey is reported in the The Irish Examiner proving just that.  She tells us that the new definition is an "over-simplification" of the problem'. "By speaking of addiction as simply a brain illness we are in danger of being over-simplistic and of removing choice from our understanding," said Prof. Casey.  "It is important that those who are addicted accept that they have a choice and realise that, unlike certain mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, their behaviour is not in the first instance determined by the neurochemistry," she said.

The personal choice argument suits Prof Casey's views but doesn't answer the facts.  Prof. Casey was criticised for over-extrapolating facts before, but in this instance she seems to be ignoring the research in favour of a message also spun widely by the alcohol industry.  As David Poley of the Portman Trust puts it, 'it is only through education, coupled with targeted interventions against misusers, that we shall ultimately change the drinking culture'. Or as drinkaware advise 'a predisposition towards alcohol can be inherited, or shaped by family attitudes ... occupations, such as high pressure sales jobs or ...people living through stressful events... may find they start to drink more heavily'.  In other words,  the industry want us to believe that the problem with addiction lies not in the substance but in the user.  Alcohol, they imply,  is not really an addictive substance at all, and the 'misusers' who let the side down for the safe-drinking majority are weak minded, emotionally damaged or just having a hard time. 

So are people cured of addiction, as Professor Casey is arguing, because they can choose to be unaddicted?  Or are they, as the new American Society definition says, struggling with an 'addiction characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response'?  Science, when not sponsored by the alcohol industry itself, supports the latter view.  Alcohol addiction 'at its core' says leading expert Professsor Nutt, is a 'state of altered brain function that leads to fundamental changes in behavior that are manifest by repeated use of alcohol'. Over time cravings and behaviours over-ride common sense until 'the situation is compounded by the occurrence of withdrawal reactions which motivate desperate attempts to find more of the addictive agent'.

European report found that while 19% of Germans, for example, drank too much  36% of Irish people binge every week and 72 % abuse alcohol on a regular basis.  And this year a European police study found that while on average one in fifty drivers across Europe are drunk, Ireland boasts on in eight. Or to take other figures from Europa, abstainers represented 39% of the Irish population in 1992, 17% in 1998 and 16% in 2002, and by 2007 only 11% had not actually binged during the last year.

So does Professor Casey think that this is explained by a collective 'choice' to drink more alcohol by more of the population?  During this time many socal changes have taken place, but nothing in Ireland's history seems to explain its unique and rampant alcoholism more than this deregulation which mirrors Ireland's other world class disaster, the deregulation of the banking sector over the same period.  It looks very much as if  the long term result of unregulated advertising, marketing and availability of alcohol has resulted in widespreaad addiction.  As the new definition puts it 'early exposure to substance use is another significant factor in the development of addiction'. Yes, Ireland has certainly managed that.

Read the full story here.

Dublin shows you can be young, cool and sober! 

Two events taking place in Dublin this summer celebrate the fact that it is possible to be young and to live happily without booze.  This weekend (12th -14th August) the second annual European Young People in Alcoholics Anonymous Conference for people in recovery from addiction takes place in Citywest, Dublin.  More than 1,000 young people from across the world are expected to attend the conference which offers, amongst many events, workshops, discussions, music, comedy and sports.  As well as events in English and Irish there will be sessions in Polish, French, Italian, Spanish and other languages. 
Event organiser Niamh Elliot is a recovered alcoholic herself and works with young addicts in the city.  She told The Irish Times' Brian O' Connell that “it is a very lonely business going in to recovery if you are young and all your friends are out partying.  A lot of the scene in Ireland revolves around pubs and young people often say there is not much else to do really.  So maintaining sobriety can be quite difficult....We have a completely different culture when it comes to addiction recovery.  In other countries, recovery is something to be really proud of.  The feeling in Ireland is that people would be very open in their drinking and socialising but once in recovery they tend to hide it.  There is still huge stigma in Ireland about being a recovering addict and it is very stereotyped.”  Interviewing participants at the event today Cian Nihill of the Irish Times quoted Jay “We want to make sure that people know that you are never too young if you need help with alcoholism, you are never too young to go sober”.

At the Funky Seomra

 About the conference itself Niamh says that  “it is very significant because this will be the biggest conference of its type ever in this country'.  The DJ for the event will be David Mooney of the Funky Seomra, Dublin's own booze free nightclub.  The club will also be celebrating on Sat Sept 17th, at a special event at the RDS Concert Hall to mark its third anniversary as Dublins' most popular alcohol free venue.  The show will include live drumming and musicians, renegade birthday parties, jugglers, give aways and 'all the magic of the Funky Seomra with Story Telling, Massage and Shiatsu, Face Painting, Happy Pear Organic Cafe, Rainbow Chai Cafe with teas, organic drinks and treats, Art Zone, Chill out zone, Games area, Visuals, 'peg it forward' and many more treats in store'.

As the Dublin Event Guide puts it "Funky Seomra is a huge success... it offers something unique; a real night out without alcohol or drugs... it is obviously needed and wanted in Dublin"

For information about the club or the 3rd anniversary bash find them on facebook.  For details or tickets for the AA conference see their website at Eurypaa 2011


Ireland's drivers worst in Europe, one in eight drunk

Tispol, the European Police Traffic Network has completed another Europe wide check on drink driving, which saw police conduct 'almost one million breath tests in a seven-day period across 28 countries, of which more than 17,000 were positive'.  Ireland disgracefully and spectacularly topped the poll.  As reported in The Irish Examiner  'the rate of detection in Ireland for drink-driving was the highest among the states surveyed and more than seven times the European average.  More than 13% of motorists tested here during the operation were above the legal drink-driving limit compared to the European average of just under 2%'. Ireland also had the highest drug driving rate at three times the European average, with 0.6% of drivers stopped showing positive.

What is equally alarming is the attitude of the Road Safety Authority whose chief executive Noel Brett told the Examiner that he was concerned about 'the high detection rates, particularly given that the drink-driving limit in Ireland is higher than most other EU countries'.  The Irish limit was in fact lowered to meet the European norm last year, and it is not the 'detection rate' that is worrying, it is the drink driving itself.  The detection rate, outside of this special TISPOL operation, is not good given the failure to implement legislation requiring roadside testing at all accident scenes.  With one in eight drivers now drunk at the wheel there is clearly very little expectation of prosecution amongst drivers.

Nevertheless Mr Brett thinks that there is just "a core group of motorists who habitually persist in driving after consuming large quantities of alcohol".  How does he know? Are they all personally know to him?  Are the courts letting convicted drivers back behind the wheel for another go?  Or is his point  that the hard drinkers are spoiling it for the rest who just like to offend occasionally?

In fact the RSA seems determined to be kind to ordinary, decent drink-drivers. At a TISPOL road safety event hosted in Dublin in October the RSA claimed that the problem is not really the drinkers after all.  It is the 'largely undetected' number of drivers in Ireland with drugs in their system.  These, the RSA says, are 'now almost as big a problem as those engaged in dangerous drink driving'.  Despite expert witness Professor Denis Cusack of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety's colourful description of 'the 19-year-old out of his head on speed or doped up granny on medications', it is hard to see how the 0.6 % of drivers on drugs equals the 13% on drink.  And even these drug-drivers were apparently treated nicely by the authorities. Apparently 'of 1,500 people tested positive for drug driving last year – just 831 were prosecuted'. 

As they say, if you don't have to, don't drive. 

The Alcohol industry, the Advertising Standards Authority & in-fighting.

As reported by the's Michael Freeman in Business Insider on 29th July "Thirteen adverts have been censured in the latest reportASAI for possible breaches of its code of standards, with fifteen complaints coming from the public. Viewers were offended by a wide range of issues. One wrote to the ASAI about a Renault ad which showed people singing “irresponsibly” while driving, while another complaint was upheld over a radio promo in which a child’s voice was heard saying “It’s feckin’ great.”

Where booze advertising was concerned it was obvious that it's all about who you know.  Heineken Ireland clearly know people, having a complaint against them denied while their own complaint was upheld.   The complaint against them was made by Diageo.  The Heineken ad in question, about the handsome guy on the train who mistakenly drinks a beautiful woman's beer seems to do everything it can to associate Heineken with oral sex, social success and fun.  See for yourself.

The industries own advertising standards are clear.  'Marketing communications for alcohol should not portray drinking games' and 'should not suggest, by word or allusion that the presence or consumption of alcohol can contribute towards sexual success or make the drinker more attractive'.  Nevertheless the Advertising Standards Authority decided in favour of Heineken, agreeing that while there were 'some suggestive glances' (!)  'there was no social, physical or sexual success depicted within the advertisement'.   The main focus was on 'the desirability of the beer itself'  and 'the duel' was all about ' reclaiming their own beer'. What's more the advertisement was apparently highly responsible because 'solitary drinking did not feature in the advertisement'. So that's alright then.

Meanwhile Heineken made its own complaint about a Budweiser ad. which contains the tagline 'The coldest pint ever, chilled below zero. Budweiser Ice Cold'.  Fortunately Heineken had the resources and the determinaton to conduct research  that showed 'that in the 87 matched tests conducted, Heineken Extra Cold was significantly colder than Budweiser Ice at a 95% confidence limit'.  What's more '4 in 5 glasses used to serve Heineken were taken from the fridge, this was only 1 in 3 for Budweiser'.  I'm telling.

Faced with this evidence it seemed an open and shut case.  But the Advertising Standards Authority had  convincing evidence of their own that led them to conclude that Budweiser Ice Cold was in fact 'the coldest pint available in most outlets across the country'.  Not enough for them though.  The Committee finally decided that 'the unqualified claim to be the coldest pint ever was not true in all circumstances and therefore could be misleading to some consumers'. Complaint upheld. They may not know sex when they see it but these boys know their law.

KATHRYN D’ARCY replies to Dr Loftus

Kathhryn D'Arcy of the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland has written to the Irish Times to refute Dr. Loftus's call (see below) for tougher action on alcohol in the light of the latest HRB report into alcohol-related deaths.

In a letter published today (Monday 25th July) Ms. D'Arcy gets down to business after a polite opener, lumping Dr. Loftus's response in with what she calls 'simplistic calls for further restrictions on alcohol, such as marketing and advertising bans and price increases'.  These are not, she writes, 'the magic solution to address alcohol misuse.  Such restrictions will simply punish our export-driven and employment-intensive drinks industry, which continues to provide much-needed jobs and revenue, without addressing the very complex and important issue of alcohol misuse'.

This is not true of course. Exports are not dependent on domestic marketing or advetising, and the tax income to Ireland from the domestic industry all goes to pay for the cost of hospitalisations and illness which the HRB research reveals.  Confusingly Ms D'Arcy goes on to argue that these 'simplistic' and 'unnecessary' measures are already in place anyway- a belt and braces approach.  'It is worth noting' she continues 'that we already have some of the most stringent co-regulatory codes on alcohol marketing, advertising and sponsorship anywhere in the world. We already have reduced our drink driving limits significantly. And we already have introduced a series of measures restricting hours of sale and where and when alcohol can be purchased'.

Not entirely true.  We have restricted happy hours it is true, but alcohol sales outlets rocketed by 150% after de-regulation in 2002, where they have remained since.  Our drink driving limit was raised from a record low to a European norm, but it is not consistently enforced and nor will it be while the governement delays on supplying the Gardai with breathalysers.  And the 'co-regulatory codes' (which do not really cover sopnsorship at all) are not being enforced adequately either, unsurprisingly given that the enforcing bodies are run by the industry itself. 

Finally Kathryn D'Arcy claims that 'alcohol consumption in Ireland declined steadily and that since then the rate of decline has accelerated dramatically to the extent that our average consumption is now approaching European norms'.  With the third highest consumption in Europe overall and the higherst binge drinking rates for teens, and with 56% of the population drinking 'at unsafe levels' as the HRB reported this month, Ms. D'Arcy is using the words 'accelerated dramatically' and 'approaching' in a very loose sense indeed.  Both the HRB and Dr. Loftus offered us facts to back the argument.  Can we see some figures from the ABFI please?

Lettter in the Irish Times


Dr. Michael Loftus on alcohol and Ireland

Former GAA president and founder of Dothian, an organisation set up to tackle alcohol abuse in the Republic of Ireland, GP Dr Loftus is a regular contributor to the debate on alcohol, and the Irish Times in particular. Last month Dr Loftus wrote to the Times about the excessive influence of alcohol producers:

Dr. Michael Loftus

"Ireland is now run by Diageo. It is incomprehensible that this powerful vested interest should have been given the platform that it received during the visits of the British monarch and the US president. At a time when Ireland is at the top of the several international league tables for alcohol abuse, when the health and social costs of excessive alcohol consumption in this country are at unprecedented levels, those to whom the well being of our people is entrusted – our Government – handed golden opportunities to a drinks company to exploit them for all they were worth".

This month it is the HRB report and the failure of school and drinkaware programmes to adequately tackle the rise in teenage drinking:

"Significantly, the Health Research Board’s report concludes that there is no published evidence that school-based education and information programmes reduce alcohol-related harm. This is something which has become obvious to many people who are concerned with the seriousness of the alcohol crisis in this country in recent years. For example, the innocuous information programmes carried out by the drinks industry over the past decades or so are totally ineffective and represent nothing more than a means of staving off the introduction of measures that could reduce alcohol-related harm among people of all ages in this country".

And in his local Mayo news  this week Dr Loftus rails again against the lauded place held by alcohol in Ireland's sporting and political culture:

'On Sunday, British Open champion Darren Clarke was acclaimed in the media for his remarkable victory but Dr Loftus was a little disappointed with the predictable way in which this triumph was portrayed. “I’m very sad to see one of our top golfers on the front pages of the newspapers today (Monday) drinking a pint. It was the same a few weeks ago when president Obama visited. It’s having a profound effect on our young people and that is why they are drinking more”.'


Harry Potter admits to butterbeer problem

In 2009 the New York Times was concerned about the amount of butterbeer being quaffed by Hogwarts students in Hogsmead's tavern the Three Broomsticks.  The film's makers, Warner Brothers played it down at the time, but film star Daniel Radcliffe who plays hero Harry Potter revealed this week that things had got out of hand.  With life imitating art (or is it the other way round) Radcliffe joined the ranks of celebrity abstainers this week saying that "I became so reliant on [alcohol] to enjoy stuff.  There were a few years there when I was just so enamored with the idea of living some sort of famous person's lifestyle that really isn't suited to me."

Safety staff stand by incase actors fall off stools
Radcliffe missed the Deathly Hallows film premiere to avoid alcohol and sat home instead watching "the Discovery Channel ... [with] a bowl of Sugar Puffs."  Talking to People magazine and GQ, the star said "I'm actually enjoying the fact that I can have a relationship with my girlfriend [Olive Uniacke] where I'm really pleasant and not fucked up totally all the time ... As much as I would love to be the person that goes to parties and has a couple of drinks and has a nice time, that doesn't work for me.  I'd rather just sit at home and read, or go out to dinner with someone, or talk to someone I love, or talk to somebody that makes me laugh."  Sheenius.


Publicans withdraw from alcohol regulation lobby
The reported this week (20th June) that both the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) and the Licenced Vintners’ Association (LVA) have pulled out of the MEAS lobby group after withdrawing from its voluntary code on the promotion of alcoholic drinks.  This is really a row within the industry, with publicans in particular feeling the squeeze from low supermarket prices on one hand and high prices on pub beers maintained by suppliers on the other.  The inconvenient issue of high government taxes on top has dealt the final body blow to profitability and many more pubs are expected to close as the recession continues.

The opposition
Sad then that the only weapon the vintners have chosen to use is to pull out of the industry's own self-regulation on advertising and promotion.  This is an own goal in one way because self-regulation is the industry's way of claiming that excessive drinking is in safe hands, requiring the government to do nothing more.  But it is unlikely that the vintners actually intend to break the code, which would involve advertising drinks directly to minors - not a good tack in restoring their dwindling custom given that the same minors usually go to supermarkets for their booze where it is cheaper and easier to find.
No surprise then that the real target of this move is the rival supermarket trade and the difficulty the vintners and MEAS are having with the rules of open trade.   MEAS – an industry funded and run group calling for the Mature Enjoyment of Alcohol in Society –  is now calling, the journal reports, for 'the government to introduce legal regulations on the below-cost sale of alcohol in off-licences'.

“I very much regret this decision by the two vintner organisations,” MEAS chief executive Fionnuala Sheehan said. "I understand that it was taken reluctantly and out of concern that the voluntary compliance of their members… was placing them at a commercial disadvantage". Sheehan called on the government to lead the development of a code of practice regulating the sale and promotion of alcohol across both pubs and off-licences'.

So commerical disadvantage is the real problem after all, and advertising and selling to teenagers is the victim along the way.  It's over to the government now.  Will they agree to price fixing to preserve the publicans former dominance of trade and take on the giants of the international supermarket world, or will they decide that self -regulation has failed and take reponsibility for growing alcoholism in the country  Or will they continue to do nothing at all?  Paddy Power is not taking any bets yet.
Read the full article>>>>


Why the Alcohol Industry is Recesion Proof

Yesterday (June 12th) Emily Knapp reported in the Wall Street Cheat Sheet that alcohol industry sales have risen nearly 10% in the past year despite a crippling world recession, matching a 9.3% rise in unemployment in the US over the same period.   As the CNN Money blog also reported - "It's not just the manufacturers who are benefiting. Sageworks found that other categories of the alcohol industry maintained growth throughout the recession, including retailers, wholesalers and bars. Wine and spirits experienced uninterrupted growth, as did the high-end craft beers".

As the journal reports, 'Some say that the numbers grew in spite of the recession, while others argue the numbers rose because of the recession. The former would call alcohol a sort of necessity, likening it to healthcare, the only other industry to grow during the recession. The latter subscribe to the “my life sucks, let’s get drunk” mentality'.

What is clear is that despite a lack of cash,  alcohol has become a priority for consumers and makes the drinks industry recession-proof.  And while (cheaper) home sales have increased, pubs are still doing well.  Interestingly leading beer brands such as Budweiser and Coors Light did experience a fall in sales over the year, giving way to newer 'experimental beers' such as New Belgium brews which increased sales by 18.3%.  The reason may be straight forward- alcohol is an addicitve subsance and once hooked you want more of it.  Budweiser comes in at 5% ABV (alcohol by volume) and Coors light at 4.2%.  If you switch to the new Belgian beers as people seem to be doing, you get between 6% and up to 9% ABV for your dollar or euro.  Good news for beer companies, bad news for the liver.


State could save €80m a year in health costs if alcohol consumption halved

Today's Irish Times (9th June 2011) reports on a new study published in the Irish Medical Journal by Dr. Barry, Professor of Public Health at Trinity College.  The study calculates that  "If Irish people halved their current alcohol consumption to the upper limit of recommended drinking levels, the health costs to the exchequer for hospital beds would drop by €80 million a year".  Prof. Joe Barry was commenting on results showing the cost of hospital inpatient beds due to alcohol was more than €850 million over five years.
Royal City of Dublin Hopsital
The study follows the UK NHS model which calculates how many hospital days and part days are taken up by diseases and admissions attributable to alcohol use.  For example it found that 'almost 9 per cent of total hospital bed days were due to drinking. Some 4 per cent of bed days were due to acute conditions associated with alcohol, such as road traffic incidents and assaults, while 96 per cent were attributable to chronic conditions associated with alcohol overconsumption. These included heart failure, epilepsy and depression'.
The Times report by Muiris Houston continues, "The study is the first to calculate both the direct and indirect cost of alcohol as measured by the number of bed days required to treat alcohol-related disease using an internationally recognised system of quantifying the full impact of alcohol consumption.  As Dr Barry said yesterday: “If we take €850 million as the cost for five years and if we were able to bring down national alcohol consumption levels by a half, then we could save at least €400 million on hospital bed costs alone".

“At €80 million a year, that is almost the cost of the current shortfall in the Fair Deal nursing home scheme.”

Alcohol Concern Cymru in drinking 'epidemic' claim row

Is the Portman group succeeding in minimising the impact of alcohol awareness in the UK, using government statistics to do so?  When the group began its ‘alcohol education’ work a decade ago there were serious questions asked as to how a group set up, run and funded by the alcohol industry could reasonably be expected to offer independent advice on the dangers of alcohol. 

As Claire Harkins wrote in a lobby-watch piece in the British Medical Journal on 20th Jan 2010:  

The group’s influence on the UK government was evident in the 2004 alcohol strategy for England and Wales. The final strategy ignored government commissioned testimony from a group of 17 independent experts who called for restrictions on alcohol pricing and availability. Instead the Portman Group was the only  “alcohol misuse” group cited in the final report. Alex Stevens, at the European Institute of Social Services at the University of Kent, said that the strategy adopted the “language and ideas of the alcohol industry . . . This seems a clear example where external pressure on government by a powerful group has influenced the use of evidence in policy.
This influence showed in a disagreement between the charity Alcohol Concern and the Portman group in March over a discrepancy between Office of National Statistics (ONS) statistics which claimed a decline in drinking patterns, at odds with ‘real’ evidence on the ground such as the rise in hospital admissions for alcohol related illnesses and accidents.   While the Portman group could cite the ‘accuracy’ of a new method of collecting data used by the government in its ONS statistics, even the centre-right Think-Tank the Policy Exchange was able to publish a convincing picture of a steady and worrying rise in alcohol related problems in the UK evidenced by a clear rise in hospitalisations and liver disease, set out clearly in its report ‘Hitting the Bottle’

BBC Wales reports today (25th May 2011) on a similar row between the Portman Group and an alcohol charity, Alcohol Concern Cymru.  The charity has on-the-ground evidence that drinking amongst elderly Welsh people is rising and is calling for action.  The Portman group is again using newly collected government data to counter the claims.  Are the government statistics to be trusted since they again run counter to actual evidence of drinking patterns in the UK?

Read extracts from the BBC report here.
"An alcohol charity claims there a "silent epidemic" of heavy drinking among elderly people in Wales.  But Alcohol Concern Cymru's (AAC) report quotes statistics that have been challenged by drinks industry body The Portman Group.  The group argued overall trends showed "a positive and continuing decline in the rates of excessive drinking".  AAC's briefing paper, Hidden harm? Alcohol and older people in Wales claims that although drinking tends to decline with age, this pattern may conceal serious alcohol-related problems among some older people.  Mr Misell, the charity's manager in Wales, said: "With the number of people over retirement age increasing, some researchers have even talked about a silent epidemic of older people's alcohol issues."  The paper compares figures from Welsh Government-commissioned Health Surveys of 2003/4 and 2009 as "evidence that the proportion of older people drinking more than the recommended amount is rising".  AAC said the number of over 65s who said they had drunk more than the recommended maximum in the previous week rose from 22% (men) and 7% (women) in 2003/4 to 34% (men) and 17% (women) in 2009. 

However, BBC Wales understands that as a result of changes in methodology adopted by the compilers of the Welsh Health Survey in 2006 the two sets of statistics are not comparable.   Welsh Health Survey Factors that changed included increases in size of wine glass, the increased alcoholic strength of wine and better estimates of the alcoholic strengths of beers, lagers and ciders.  "The point of the paper is that it's a hidden problem.  Mr Misell said many who might benefit from support might not look like stereotypical drinkers. The fact that many older people drank at home contributed to the problem being hidden.
However, David Poley, chief executive of the Portman Group, said "Overall trends shows a positive and continuing decline in the rates of excessive drinking. Trying to get people to adopt safer behaviour does not justify misrepresenting statistics in this way.    “We would urge Alcohol Concern Cymru to use alcohol statistics responsibly” David Poley The Portman Group


The report said healthcare professionals did not always recognise when older people's health problems were alcohol-related, or might not know how to raise the issue, leaving the problems untreated. And the charity called for research into whether current unit guidance and screening methods for alcohol misuse was relevant to older people. The briefing paper was supported by Rhian Pearce of Age Cymru who said: "About a third of older people with drinking problems develop them in later life and they may struggle to access help for this issue." Ms Pearce called for health  professionals to be trained to identify drinking problems in older people.  Wynford Ellis Owen of the Wales Council on Alcohol and Other Drugs also rejected claims that the problem of alcohol abuse among older people was being overstated".


Disgrace of the booze friendly coroner

Donegal Coroner Dr Denis McCauley has disgraced himself again with a sentimental but fact-free appeal in today’s Irish Examiner (May 14th 2011) not just for a stay on the new drink-driving regulations announced by Minister Varadkar in the Dáil last month, but for a re-opening of the debate for a lowering of legal drink-driving levels.

Gardia investigate accident in Donegal
In case we were dreaming, let’s remind ourselves of the unequivocal position of both the IMO and the RSA chief executive Noel Brett in the same Examiner article:

There is absolutely no doubt that reducing the drink-driving limit saves lives.  The evidence is overwhelming and 112 separate studies show the same result so there is no arguing with the science.
And a look at the figures from Alcohol Action Ireland shows that drink driving offences increased by 74% between 2003 and 2007 from 11,421 to 19,864, and where Blood Alcohol Concentration levels were available for drivers killed, almost six out of ten had alcohol in their blood, one in six of those below the current legal limit.

But not only is Dr McCauley a better expert on the causes of road deaths than the RSA, he also seems to have information about alcohol that neuro-psychopharamacologists like
Professor David Nutt in the UK would view as dangerous nonsense. McCauley might enlighten us with the source of the science that lead him to describe ‘the health benefits of alcohol – the medical and psychological effects that are beneficial’ in the Examiner last Saturday.

Dr. McCauley also calls for a "cost benefit analysis" to be carried out before bringing in the new road-safety measures. As the coroner in the county in which eight young people died in one alcohol-related accident last year, what 'cost' does he put on those young lives? And who exactly does he think is ‘benefiting’ cost-wise from these deaths?  Are drink driving deaths good for coroners, or is it the publicans he feels sorry for?  Just checking, because as a coroner you would have thought that working in a county in which  21 out of 23 road fatalities (2009) were due to alcohol he might be arguing for lowering the alcohol driving limits?

So if we raised the drink driving level (and consequently the deaths on the roads) where would Dr. McCauley put the bar exactly? Well perhaps he is in agreement with his colleague coroner John Madden who also spoke to the Examiner in defence of what he called people who ‘just drank more than they thought they did’ or ‘the farmer with a few pints’ . “The guys we should be after” he says, are in Dublin 'where a man was convicted for getting behind the wheel of a car having consumed 19 drinks and taken cocaine’.

Yes that does sound dangerous. Note to readers. Be very careful on the roads in Donegal.
Full article here

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Alcohol warning for arthritis sufferers
There is absolutely no doubt that reducing the drink-driving limit saves lives. The evidence is overwhelming and 112 separate studies show the same result so there is no arguing with the science.
Or to reports today (10th May) that:
People with arthritis are being urged to always consult a doctor before consuming alcohol if they are taking any prescribed medications.  There are over 100 types and the condition affects some 840,000 people nationwide. According to Arthritis Ireland (AI), some arthritis medications can be harmful to the liver and consuming alcohol on top of this could lead to serious liver damage.

It emphasised that "consuming alcohol can become ‘quite dangerous' once you have the condition. However people with arthritis will most likely be taking a series of prescribed medications to control the disease and associated pain. Drinking alcohol while taking these medications can put your liver at risk and we would advise anyone who may be taking such medications to consult their doctor with any concerns," an AI spokesperson said.

For further information on the risks posed by alcohol to arthritis sufferers, contact the Arthritis Ireland helpline on 1890 252 846.  Read more

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Alcohol abuse leads to sharp rise in liver disease

Following research linking cancers to alcohol consumption last month, Eilish O'Regan reports in The Independent (Monday May 09 2011) that:

GROWING numbers of people are developing liver disease in their 20s and 30s because of heavy boozing, according to new research.  A rise in alcohol abuse, including binge drinking, is fuelling a worrying increase in liver disease at a younger age.  The rate of death and illness due to liver disease in all age groups has soared by 190pc in just 13 years, with a particular rise in younger age groups.  The grim toll our booze culture is taking on health is revealed by Health Research Board researchers in the journal 'Alcohol and Alcoholism. 

They found the rate of liver disease and deaths went from 28.3 per 100,000 adults in 1995 to 82.2 in 2007. Although the increase in disease in the younger age group comes from a low base, it is of serious concern. The number of patients treated in hospital for liver disease increased over the same period, by 247pc for 15- to 34-year-olds and by 224pc for 35- to 49-year-olds. Read more

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Irish Examiner reports 1,900 death certificates over three years mention alcohol By Noel Baker Monday, May 09, 2011
ALCOHOL was listed on death certificates in almost 1,900 fatalities over a three-year period, statistics reveal.

Central Statistics Office (CSO) figures show that between 2007 and 2009 alcohol was mentioned on death certificates in 1,895 cases dealt with by coroners.   Chairwoman of the Coroners Society, Isobel O’Dea, said anecdotally there had been a rise in the number of cases coming before coroners where alcohol had played a significant role, but she stressed that just because alcohol is mentioned on a death certificate did not mean it played a direct or contributory role in the death.

Ms O’Dea, the Clare county coroner, said it was likely alcohol would only warrant a mention on a death certificate if the amount found in toxicology reports was a minimum of 100mg, which is higher than the current drink- driving limit.  Read more

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 MORE than half of patients attending emergency departments need to address their alcohol consumption, a study argues Noel Baker Irish Examiner 7th May 2011

Almost 1,000 people attending EDs & in four hospitals around the country participated in the voluntary alcohol screening programme, which excluded those who were obviously intoxicated on arrival.    The screening programme found that 11% of respondents needed a referral to a specialist service because of their drinking, while brief advice was offered to a further 42% over their drinking habits.  Some 7% declined to take part and the remainder of people required no further intervention.  The finding that almost two thirds of respondents could be drinking too much arose out of research conducted from December 2009 to February 2010 in Cork University Hospital (CUH), Letterkenny General Hospital, Naas General Hospital and Waterford Regional HospitalRead more

Barmen in alcohol death trial had no contracts, no written codes and no training on legislation or alcohol danger Irish Times May 2011  THE TRIAL of two bar staff accused of the manslaughter of a British man in a Co Tipperary hotel has heard that both accused had no training on the potential dangers of fatal doses of alcohol and were told to meet the needs of hotel guests, including serving them drinks.  Bar manager at Hayes Hotel in Thurles, Gary Wright (34), and barman Aidan Dalton (28), both from Borrisoleigh, Co Tipperary, deny the manslaughter of Graeme Parish through gross negligence.  It is alleged the bar staff served Mr Parish (26) eight shots of spirits in a pint glass at the hotel bar, which he downed in one go, a few hours before he was found dead from alcohol poisoning.  More

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Alcohol and Crime Irish Examiner May 2011    MISUSE of alcohol was directly involved in almost 70,000 crimes last year. The startling statistic highlights the destructive impact alcohol continues to have on society.  Official Central Statistics Office figures show there are around 5,000 more alcohol-related crimes committed annually than there were six years ago. This is due to a sharp increase in disorderly conduct — public order and drunkenness offences — and assaults. Statistics analysed by the Irish Examiner show there are in the region of 130 cases of drink-related disorderly conduct and 40 assaults, on average, every day.  Official estimates state that alcohol plays a role in at least half of assaults, with some studies putting it as high as 85%.  The number of disorderly conduct cases have jumped by nearly a quarter since 2004, while the number of assaults have risen by a fifth.  More  

South Africa could ban alcohol advertising which 'mainstreams alcohol consumption as a way of life'. Media responds May 2011
The threat of a ban on alcohol advertising looms large – and has massive implication to our industry. Tanya Farber and Jeremy Daniel investigate.  Alcohol adverts have, over the years, become an art form unto themselves. For a public tickled by skits, or influenced by the lifestyle branding that now dominates the commercials scene, such images are ubiquitous – and, many would argue, entirely harmless.  Behind the scenes of the media industry, however, a conflict is brewing.  At the heart of it is a proposed ban on alcohol advertising that is causing panic in an already-nervous media industry for whom advertising revenue equals livelihood.   More

UK brewery chief asks govnt to fund school education on 'the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption' Nice try!

Mark Hunter blogs: Government needs a cohesive approach to alcohol.  As the chief executive of Britain’s largest brewer, I have clear accountabilities to beer drinkers, to my employees and shareholders, to the government and, ultimately, to my conscience, both as a father of two teenagers and as the leader of a business that produces beers that are designed to be enjoyed by a majority, but are, on occasions, abused by a minority. Let’s be clear. It is not in my company’s interests to see our brands mistreated.  I believe a culture of moderation is the only credible route to improving Britain’s relationship with alcohol.  More:

Teenagers see bad experiences of alcohol as positive, and it doesn't make them alter their drinking intentions March 2011
Dutch study explores how alcohol use is incorporated in the lives of young adolescents . To this end, critical incidents involving alcohol use situations are analyzed. Special attention is paid to the consequences associated with alcohol use, the role of the parents, and the way adolescents evaluate incidents and link them to behavioral intentions.  A total of 145 incidents were described. Many different, mostly adverse, consequences were associated with the incidents. Parents were not always aware of incidents, and if they were, they often did not take them seriously.  The study shows that alcohol is already deeply rooted in the lives of adolescents. The role of parents appears to be problematic. Furthermore, the study underlines the complexity of the problem of adolescent alcohol use. If their own negative experiences and first-hand observations do not substantially lead to lower drinking intentions, it does not seem plausible that alcohol information and education materials focusing on consequences will.  More