Belfast Telegraph

Plan to ban alcohol sport sponsors

The Government is to consider stamping out alcohol sponsorship of sporting events and festivals to curb Ireland's drink culture.

The price of cheap booze should also be hiked and a watershed enforced on drinks advertising to try to stop teenagers binge drinking, an expert group found. A total of 45 recommendations to tackle dangerous consumption levels were revealed in a report, expected to be put before the Cabinet by May.

Tony Holohan, Ireland's Chief Medical Officer, said the human cost of alcohol use and misuse was too stark to ignore, with the average Irish adult downing the equivalent of almost a bottle of vodka a week.

"Irish adults drink in a more dangerous way than any other country," said Dr Holohan, chairman of the National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group. "In effect, 1.5 million Irish drinkers drink in a harmful pattern and this needs to be addressed."

Figures show alcohol was responsible for at least 88 deaths every month in 2008 and associated with one in six child abuse cases.

Dr Holohan continued: "It was a contributory factor in half of all suicides and deliberate self-harm, is associated with 2,000 beds being occupied every night in Irish hospitals, and related illness costs the health care system 1.2 billion euro in 2007, with alcohol-related crime costing an estimated 1.19 billion euro in the same year."

The group said it focused on the major drinks manufacturers and cheap off-licence sellers, including supermarkets and petrol stations, but not pubs.

Proposals include hitting drinks firms with a social responsibility levy to fund an anti-drink campaign, with a law to separate the sale of alcohol from other products in supermarkets, excluding wine. The most controversial move - to phase out drinks industry sponsorship of sport and other large public events - could be in place by 2016.

But the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI) said the ban will starve organisations of revenue for major international fixtures and also grassroots clubs.

Director Kathryn D'Arcy said a number of unnecessary proposals would hit the average consumer and impact on the 62,000 jobs and 2 billion euro in tax revenue from the industry. She said: "Ireland already has one of the highest alcohol excise and taxation regimes in Europe and our industry operates within the most regulated environment for alcohol marketing anywhere in the world."

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