Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Irish Government and the Drinks Industry

The Irish government has scrapped a bill that was supposed to protect children and adolescents from over-exposure to alcohol advertising. The industry will now self-regulate. I have to wonder if our favourite 40 TDs, whom I like to call "The Publicans Friends", had anything to do with this. However, that said, I do agree with the government on this one (yeah, amazing, I know. I promise I wont make a habit of it :-) ), though they will take alot of flack from the opposition and anti-alcohol lobby.

In fairness to the drinks industry it is doing its bit to counter the problem of binge drinking. Diageos "don't see a great night wasted" campaign deserves special praise. Many of the adverts for beer now show people drinking socially in a non-pub environment instead of locked into a pub where binge drinking was part of the ambiance. Take the new Miller advert with the guy going to the off-license on his bike and rolling down the hill for example. (Ok drinking and cycling is a VERY stupid idea, as I know from experience). A couple of years ago he would have been shown in the pub with a limitless supply available from a barman only too happy to serve him as long as he had money and no matter how drunk he got. Now all he has are 6 bottles, and its a more social, casual, drink with friends. Drinking at home is a problem for some people, but I think in general people consume less when drinking with friends at home than when drinking with friends in a pub. Of course not all alcohol adverts steer away from binge drinking, but its a start.

The problem with children and drink is not advertising. It is peer pressure. They don't learn to drink from TV, they learn from their mates. Drink culture is going to prove to be a difficult thing to change. Its ingrained in the Irish psyche and it will require a long term strategy to wean the nation off alcohol. Too many things in Ireland revolve around the pub. Sporting events are watched in the pub, after game team drinks are held in the pub, company events end in the pub, mates meet up in the pub, working weeks end in the pub, families go for lunch in the pub, political parties hold meetings in the pub, and so on.

It is also far too easy for kids to get alcohol in the first place. The majority of kids are not stealing bottles of cider from their parents drinks cabinet, or buying pints in pubs. They are getting their drink from dodgy off-licenses that dont mind selling to anyone who looks close enough to 18. Many off-licenses are perfectly law abiding, but enough are not to fuel the alcohol problem for kids.

I would like to see more official checks on off-licenses. There needs to be more enforcement of age checks to prevent kids who look 18 (in the opinion of the seller) buying beer. Of course we might need ID cards for that, but surely at this stage everyone over 18 either has a drivers license or a passport. The American idea that if you look younger than 30 then they "card" you is a good one. No room for error.

The Gardai should also increase the checks on off-licenses by sending under age kids in and seeing if they can buy alcohol (though I imagine civil-rights groups would freak and child protection agencies wouldn't know what to say).

If dodgy off-licenses knew they could be closed down for selling alcohol to kids and that the Gardai were checking up on them, then they sure as hell would stop selling to kids.

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