Irish people rank among the highest consumers of alcohol in Europe and of particular concern is the consumption levels and patterns among young people. There is substantial evidence that the more young people are exposed to alcohol marketing, the more likely they are to start drinking or if already drinking, to drink more.
In light of this, the World Health Organisation has recommended restrictions on alcohol marketing as an important and cost-effective intervention for reducing harmful use of alcohol. In Ireland a wide range of medical and public health organisations support this stance.
However it is impossible to escape the ubiquitous promotion of alcohol in Ireland.
You might think your child hasn’t been exposed to alcohol marketing as they are in bed before the television and radio advertisements commence, but alcohol promotion is everywhere – in the sponsorship of major sporting and arts events, on t-shirts, at tourist attractions, and on social media. There is no escape.
While the promotion of alcohol takes many forms, sponsorship in the sporting arena is the keystone for a wide range of alcohol marketing activity in Ireland. Alcohol sponsorship of sports creates a culture where children and young people perceive alcohol consumption as a normal everyday part of life and see it as something associated with having fun and sporting success.
Alcohol brands sponsor a raft of major sporting events and sporting teams, particularly in rugby and GAA, all with a prominent display of their logos. In recent years the trend is to have the alcohol brand name preceding the name of the event, which is used in full every time it is mentioned.
Munster’s legendary rugby victory over the All Blacks in 1978 is now being used in an alcohol advertisement. Is anything sacred?
The banning of alcohol sponsorship in sports has been under discussion in Ireland for many years. However the alcohol industry has strongly lobbied against the move anytime it has been suggested.
A Government steering group report on the issue, released in early 2012, recommended drinks industry sponsorship of sporting and other large public events in Ireland be phased out through legislation by 2016.
However in 2013 it was confirmed that the Government would not include the move in its planned new alcohol legislation. As the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill makes its way through the Oireachtas, it is hoped legislators might reconsider the sponsorship ban given its importance as a marketing tool by alcohol companies, according to Prof Joe Barry, Head of the Department of Public Health and Primary Care, Trinity College Dublin.
“We presented before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health recently about it so there is hope yet,” he said.
And it’s not just sports. Major Irish arts and film festivals are sponsored by big alcohol brands. Dublin’s most popular fee charging tourist attraction is the Guinness Storehouse, with the Old Jameson whiskey distillery also a major draw. Many tourists return home with t-shirts, mugs or other fare emblazoned with the brand names of Irish alcohol companies. There are also our world famous pubs, so the promotion of an Irish experience and alcohol are inextricably linked.
Up until last year there was even a national day celebrating the founder of Guinness, in the form of Arthur’s Day. A marketers dream. However the public backlash about the basis of the day, and the resulting spike in emergency department visits led to its demise. But hey, there is still St Patrick’s Day, right.
At a more basic level, special alcohol promotions pop up for every public and bank holiday in Ireland, in the form of cheap drinks specials in supermarkets and bars. It is all about pushing the purchase and consumption of more alcohol. With Easter there is the growing clamour to allow full availability of alcohol on Good Friday, as if there aren’t enough days of the year to purchase alcohol.
The drinks industry likes to be seen to be supportive of efforts to reduce dangerous levels of alcohol consumption, though its efforts usually mask attempts to water down any Governmental legislation to restrict alcohol availability and promotion, Prof Barry maintained.
Recently, there has been a lot of publicity about the Diageo sponsored campaign ‘Stop out of control drinking’, which backfired badly on the major alcohol company, leading it to resign from the campaign board. “It doesn’t make sense for an alcohol company to spend a bit of money to try to pretend they want to stop people drinking alcohol when they spend so much on trying to make you to drink. I don’t think the campaign has any validity,” Prof Barry stated.
He also raised concern about the promotion of alcohol to young people through social media. All major alcohol brands have Facebook and Twitter pages and various associated promotions. While they state you have to be over 18 to view or enter, there is no way of policing this, he pointed out.
“Alcohol companies use of social media has escaped under the radar so far. It is not mentioned in any of the guidelines yet it is how young people communicate now and it can be used to target young people very specifically. I saw somewhere that about 20% of the drinks industry’s marketing budget is for social media so that is obviously worrying,” he commented.
In an effort to highlight the issue, international expert on alcohol marketing Prof David Jernigan will be a keynote speaker at this year’s Alcohol Forum Conference. The Conference will take place as part of ‘Action on Alcohol Week’ in Croke Park on Wednesday, 22<sup>nd</sup> April, and will be officially opened by the Minister for Health, Dr Leo Varadkar.
Kieran Doherty, CEO, Alcohol Forum said: “We wholly support the Government’s proposed Public Health (Alcohol) Bill and in particular the identification of the marketing of alcohol to young people as a key provision in the tackling of alcohol harm in this country.”
He noted the alcohol industry is a powerful lobby group and will do everything within its power to protect its interests. “Action on Alcohol Week is an initiative that puts our communities and most importantly our young people ahead of the vested interests of the drinks industry with the aim of changing our harmful relationship with alcohol to make this country a safer and healthier place for our young people.”
Before you head out…
- Eat something: Try to eat a big carbohydrate meal like pasta or potatoes. The ‘soakage’ will help slow down the rate that alcohol reaches your body.
- Skip the ‘pre – drinking’: lots of people drink at home or in a friend’s house before they go out. While this saves some money, it’s much harder to keep track of your drinking since measures will be larger and you are more likely to binge.
- Start later: if you know it’s going to be a long, late night, arrive at the last possible minute. That’s one way to limit how much you take on board on a night out.
- Get home safely: pre-book your taxi or arrange for someone to collect you. Never ever drink and drive.