The National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group reported on 7th February,2012.
The report calls for the introduction of a series of blunt restrictions on the marketing and sale of alcohol on the basis of what can only be described as suspect criteria.
According to the report, alcohol abuse cost the health service €1.2bn in 2007 and that alcohol-related crime cost a further €1.19bn during the same year.
Quite apart from the fact that such figures being almost five years old are hopelessly out-of-date, one should always retain a healthy scepticism of such suspiciously precise numbers.
The report states that: “Irish adults drink in a more dangerous way than in nearly any other country”.
However, what the main body of the report fails to point out is that Irish alcohol consumption per head of population aged over-15 has in fact fallen by 17pc, more than a sixth, since 2001.
One also has to dig deep in the report’s appendices to discover that, far from being an outlier, Ireland’s levels of alcohol consumption are at or close to the European average, a little less than France or Portugal, a little more than the UK or Germany.
Yet, despite clear evidence that, not alone are Irish alcohol consumption levels no more than the European average, but that the overall consumption pattern is one of clear long-term decline as the demographic bulge of the 1970s approaches middle age, the report of the Strategy Steering Group recommends minimum, ie higher, prices for alcohol, increased excise duties, an end to alcohol sponsorship of sporting events and the imposition of a “social responsibility levy” on the drinks industry.
According to the report, alcohol has become progressively cheaper in real terms in recent years, and higher prices are necessary to reduce consumption levels.
But, as has already been pointed out, despite alcohol becoming more affordable over the past decade, consumption has fallen rather than risen.
Quite clearly the relationship between the price of alcohol and levels of consumption is a much more complex one than the report would have us believe.
Of course there are problems. The report is surely correct to draw attention to the fact that young people are drinking at an earlier age than ever before.
However, what is needed are targeted measures to address specific problems. The success in changing public attitudes to drink driving shows what can be achieved by such campaigns.
By all means crack down hard on alcohol products and alcohol marketing campaigns aimed specifically at teenagers but that is no reason to interfere with the enjoyment of the vast majority of drinkers who consume alcohol in a safe and responsible manner.