Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children

General Scheme of Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015: Discussion (Resumed)

9:30 am

Photo of Jillian van TurnhoutJillian van Turnhout (Independent) | Oireachtas source

The Minister is very welcome to the committee. I have written two European papers on alcohol-related harm. I was asked to do one of them by the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the European Union. It gave me an opportunity to present to the then Minister, whom I could not meet in my role at the time as chief executive of the Children's Rights Alliance. I am delighted this is being framed as a public health issue. I believe it is critically important. There is really strong support for this Bill. Most contact I have with individuals and organisations is about how we can go further and what more we can do. We have had too much talk about alcohol and we now need to ensure there is legislative change.

I differ from my colleague Deputy Ó Caoláin on minimum unit pricing, but I do respect his views and we have had our discussions. We have listed to impressive presentations by Dr. John Holmes and Mr. Colin Angus from the University of Sheffield. I am convinced on the issue so I will not use my time today on that.

I am concerned that the plan to place the voluntary code for sports sponsorship onto a legal footing is not strong enough. Let us look back at how the voluntary code came into place. In 2003, draft legislation had been prepared by the Government and had gone to Cabinet for approval, when all of a sudden the voluntary code was brought in. The Children's Rights Alliance submission to this committee states: "It is worth noting that the text of the voluntary code mirrors exactly that produced by the industry, including grammatical errors." I hope the industry does not have the same influence now. The committee has had presentations on the issue of the voluntary code. I draw the Minister's attention to audience profiling. An example was given to the committee about a rugby match and the 25% rule. I suggest to the Minister that it could be reduced to 10%. Obviously I would prefer stronger enforcement, or that it was not in the way, but if we are going to do something then we should make it 10%.

Children are clearly being targeted with that 25%. We should remove it as much as possible.

We must also consider digital and online marketing, which seem absent from this proposal. A few years ago, Diageo announced that 21% of its marketing budget was going towards online marketing. Recently, Finland introduced legislation banning alcohol apps that contained games, location settings and information on where the nearest place to drink was. Clearly, these are targeted at children. It is social engagement. A young person who visits Youtube sees advertisements for alcohol that I do not see. I know this from when my nephews and nieces show me clips on Youtube or other social media. Children are being targeted. I do not get the same advertisements. I tend to get the weight loss ones and so forth that seem to target my age demographic. Children get the alcohol ones. This is telling and we should be well aware of it.

Who will carry out the regulation of alcohol marketing and enforcement of penalties? Will it continue to be the Alcohol Marketing Communications Monitoring Body, AMCMB? Will the Minister discuss section 16 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act with the Department of Justice and Equality? It relates to the making of regulations on advertising and promoting. Perhaps we could commence the section immediately.

An issue is absent from the Bill that many presentations raised with us, namely, sports sponsorship. I do not understand why we do not simply set a date. It is inevitable. It is telling that neither sports organisations nor the drinks industry will give us figures for sports sponsorship. Yesterday morning, I attended an interesting briefing given by Ms Katherine Brown of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, IAS, and organised by Alcohol Action Ireland. She stated, "Alcohol sponsorship of sport is a gateway to children's bedroom doors". She referred to the posters of our sporting heroes on bedroom doors. It is a child protection issue.

What the Minister is doing in respect of labelling is welcome. At a conference organised by Alcohol Action Ireland on Tuesday, there was an interesting presentation on whether the health warnings should include cancer warnings. Clear evidence was given in a similar fashion to that in respect of tobacco. Is this something that the Minister should consider?

The issue of section 9 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act also arose. It relates to the separation of alcohol products. The National Off-Licence Association, NOFFLA, outlined an easy way of doing this. It provided an architect's diagrams and the like. It is not as great a difficulty as one might believe. Why can we not commence this section immediately?

I was concerned by the emphasis placed on the role of education in some of the submissions to the committee. They tended to be those linked to the drinks industry. Education informs our behaviour, but it does not change it. I cited the example of picking up our mobile telephones while driving. In the Minister's previous role, he introduced a law and we changed behaviour because people did not want to get caught. I know that I should not pick up my telephone, but I swear at the Minister at least once per day when I go to pick it up, only to stop because I do not want to get caught. I know it is wrong, but legislation is necessary.


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