Belfast Telegraph

Alarm at increase in alcohol deaths

The number of people who died from alcohol abuse in Northern Ireland increased by 40% in under a decade, it has been revealed.

Almost 300 people succumbed in one year and thousands more were admitted to hospital, social development minister Nelson McCausland said.

A Responsible Retailing Code for drink was launched a year ago, with an independent complaints panel to monitor compliance. The team led by former senior policeman Duncan McCausland has upheld complaints against two nightspots linked to drinks promotions.

Minister Nelson McCausland said: "While there has been a welcome reduction in overall consumption of alcohol over the past few years, harmful use of alcohol continues to place a significant burden on our public health - it is estimated to cost Northern Ireland up to £900 million per year."

In 2010, 284 people died directly from alcohol misuse, an increase of 40% since 2001.

In the financial year 2011/12 there were 7,767 admissions to acute hospitals with an alcohol-related diagnosis.

The Democratic Unionist added: "As social development minister, I cannot allow alcohol to be sold or supplied in an irresponsible manner and recent measures that I have taken forward reflect my commitment to taking firm action to address the issues associated with the misuse of alcohol."

Steps taken include introducing powers to restrict low cost drinks promotions, like all you can drink for £20, which encourage excessive consumption.

Nelson McCausland has proposed that breaches of codes of conduct be taken into consideration when premises apply to courts to have their drinks licences renewed. He is also considering introducing minimum unit pricing.

"It is clear therefore that the problem of alcohol misuse is multifaceted and demands an integrated, co-ordinated approach to developing and delivering solutions," the North Belfast MLA added.

"While clearly there is social consensus that the sale and consumption of alcohol needs to be regulated, I recognise the right level of regulation is always a balance and that it is important to establish a positive working relationship with the licensed trade to help foster a change in the drinking culture in Northern Ireland."

The Responsible Retailing Code has been in place since September last year and recognises that safe promotions represent a vital business tool, but those encouraging drinking to excess are not acceptable.

Independent Complaints Panel chairman Duncan McCausland said his team dealt with 18 complaints, four of which were upheld and involved two promotions.

Three complaints about Elvissa Nightclub in Belfast were validated, namely:

:: The promotion "Messy Monday" encouraged excessive and irresponsible consumption as it encouraged people to get "messy";

:: The language used in the promotion on Facebook was offensive, sexist and offended common decency. It promoted squirting alcohol directly into the mouth in direct breach of the Code.

A separate complaint about the Envy Bar and Nightclub in Derry was upheld after social media pages advertised pay an entrance fee and receive the same amount credited to a membership card, with redemption encouraging customers to consume £10 worth of alcohol within two hours.

Mr McCausland said he was greatly encouraged by the high level of compliance shown by the trade.

"We believe the code has had a very positive impact across Northern Ireland, so much so that the panel is aware that many licensees are now liaising with their relative industry body before engaging with any promotion to ensure that it falls within the agreeable terms of the code," he added.

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