When public policy is being shaped, it should be based on science and evidence rather that prejudice and distortion. So where is the evidence that Minimum Unit Pricing works?
No matter what the weather, once the clocks go back we’re in winter. Many love the long dark evenings, with their promise of festive fun, friendship and scares. But it’s not all great gas out there right now. Not in Ireland, nor indeed elsewhere.
In addition to the promise of good times, these months also see an upswing in Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and depression. Not everyone is in the party mood. That’s no surprise, given the shit that’s been hitting the fan(s) recently: it is hard to feel upbeat in a world gone crazy.
Plus, some among us are inclined to push the boat out too far, on occasion at least taking things into uncharted waters. If we do not have a clear sense of what the boundaries are – or at least the capacity to learn from past mistakes – even good times can go very bad. It is a message we have been hearing loud and clear, over the past few weeks, in relation to bullying and sexual harassment.
So, there is something to be said for an advertisement that has started popping up on terrestrial radio, warning about using alcohol as a crutch in times of depression. It’s a bit preachy in its tone – but we have no problem with the message. Getting wasted is only going to make you feel worse – maybe even far worse – in the long run.
This message is certainly much more relevant, and to the point, than the Alcohol (Public Health) Bill that is still trundling around the alleys of legislation. To be very clear about it, in relation to the vast majority of the population, the issues that this self-serving piece of legislation is intended to address are largely of the past, both in terms of behaviours and communications patterns. More importantly, the proposed new law offers little to tackle the very real problems of a small minority of the population, albeit a very visible and troubled one, in relation to their use of alcohol.
This isn’t just the view from Hog Hill. It’s also widely held in Sweden, where a paper on that country’s alcohol consumption was published on Medscape in 2015. It explored the divergence in recent years between per capita alcohol consumption, which has decreased, and alcohol-related harmful effects, which have increased sharply among Stockholm youth over the past decade.
The Swedish researchers identified a clear difference between those who drink moderately and those who drink dangerously. They recommended focusing on the latter: “So that targeted interventions can be developed to reduce their current levels of drinking and associated harmful effects.” This clear-minded and non-moralistic thinking is diametrically opposite to the general population control measures in vogue here where, in the view of the Government’s advisors, we are all high-risk drinkers.
One of the key planks of the Irish legislation is the introduction of a minimum unit price (MUP), which is being imposed with little or no sound data to back it up – the only western market where it has been implemented is British Columbia, in Canada.
Crucially, here in Hot Press, we can find no research into whether MUP causes the target groups to switch to homemade liquor; to steal more; to shop across the border; or, more pertinently in the Irish context, to move to drugs for their highs. Since those who will be principally affected by minimum unit pricing are economically disadvantaged, or young, or both, and these groups are most familiar with the drugs market, it seems irresponsible – and potentially very risky – to create such a push factor towards illegality. We wrote recently on hotpress.com that Valium is now available at €1 a pill on the streets. But, of course, that is just one of many uppers, downers and inside-outers that can be bought from drug dealers. They will be rubbing their hands, if and when the effect of the legislation kicks in…
There is a very disquieting aspect to all of this. Those shaping public policy seem incapable of being clear and truthful about what has actually been happening here – so we will tell you.
You would never realise it from the headlines, but alcohol consumption in Ireland has fallen by 25% since 2005; over the same period, the country dropped from 9th to 18th in a World Health Organisation survey of 28 countries. The European Schools Study on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD, 2016) showed not only a significant decline in underage use, but that Ireland had fallen from 8th to 28th out of 33 countries participating in ESPAD.
There’s more. The Health Promotion Research Centre in UCG has gathered data from 50,000 10-17 years olds since 1998. They found that young people in Ireland are starting to drink later in life and that fewer are smoking tobacco and cannabis. The number who said they drank so much alcohol at some point in their lives that they were “really drunk” fell from 33% in 1998 to 21% in 2014.
So the truth is that things are moderating in the general population.
VOCAL LOBBY GROUP
It is a different picture with the minority who are involved in consumption of drugs and alcohol, in a way that threatens to become problematic in the long run. For example, a recently published small (but significant) study of young cannabis users in Ballymun found them spending over €100 a week on cannabis. But those not in employment, education or training spent an average of €152 a week, even though they only get €100 a week in jobseeker’s assistance.
That €52 gap begs a question. It also emphasises our point about the possibility of unintentionally diverting individuals within this minority group away from legal and regulated substances towards an illegal, and far riskier, type of behaviour.
It is imperative that policy-makers take a rounded, holistic view in relation to these issues. Right now, they seem incapable of that in Ireland, preferring instead the thoroughly simplistic Alcohol Is Bad line of thinking.
For the most vulnerable, potentially problematic cohort, the really serious risks start when there is contact with, and sometimes immersion in, the criminal underworld. But the risks also include the drugs themselves which, as Forensic Science Ireland (the State laboratory) has pointed out, are riddled with impurities, which can themselves be killers. In addition, crack cocaine is widely available in Ballymun, where the survey referred to took place. We also have to watch for fentanyl, the very powerful opioid implicated in the death of Prince, which can be up to 500 times stronger than heroin.
Even before fentanyl breaks out here, Ireland has the third highest rate of overdose deaths in the EU. In 2016, Forensic Science Ireland detected 27 new types of synthetic drugs here; some, like N-Bomb, can kill you. And then there’s Spice, and other synthetic cannabinoids…
The Bill also proposes some controls on advertising and sponsorship. In an opinion column in The Irish Times last July, Professor Frank Murray, chair of the Alcohol Health Action Alliance lobby group, argued that “evidence demonstrates that exposure to alcohol advertising, whether on TV, in cinema, in public places or alcohol-branded sponsorships, predicts future youth drinking.” He added that “France has achieved a 25% reduction in alcohol consumption since introducing advertising restrictions via the ‘Loi Evin’”…
Well, if that’s supposed to be the evidence for a policy change, we have a real problem, as is clear from The ‘Loi Evin’: a French exception by Drs Alain Regaud and Michel Craplet – a study that was published in 2004, by the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) in the UK. Again, to be clear about it, the IAS is an offshoot of the Alliance House Foundation, a long-established UK temperance organisation. At the time of writing the paper, Regaud was Président of the Association Nationale de Prévention en Alcoologie et Addictologie (ANPAA) in France and Craplet was its medical adviser. So, these authors were not apologists for the alcoholic beverages industry; rather, they were very much in favour of the French law and on the same side as the Irish anti-alcohol lobby. But here’s what they actually said about that law:
“The effect of the Loi Evin has been swamped by the general trend towards reduced alcohol consumption in France. This is a powerful and long running diminution of the average consumption of 1 per cent per year, making it decline dramatically from 30 to 13 litres of pure alcohol per capita per year between 1960 and 2004.”
In other words, and entirely contrary to claims by Irish anti-alcohol lobbyists, the French law had no tangible quantitative effect! So why are we trying to replicate it here?
It is to placate a vocal lobby group. And it is also to be seen climbing onto the high moral ground. But the truth is that distorting the evidence and shaping public policy on the basis of an ideological hatred of alcohol rather than on the evidence available is not a moral position at all.
That’s why we prefer the advert. Simple, to the point, and likely to connect with young men in particular. And it uses the media, instead of trying to undermine them.
Much smarter thinking…
A hundred years after the end of the Great War, how much have things really changed? The truth is that 2018 will represent a huge challenge to world leaders, if the drift towards a narrow kind of nationalism is not to lead us inevitably back to war..Read More
With the threat of secession looming in different parts of the world, a period of dramatic instability seems likely. We have been here before, of course. But at a terrible, brutal cost...Read More
In recent times, Ireland has become a much more open society when it comes to mental health - but it wasn’t always thus, to put it mildly…Read More
The Armagaddeon-obsessed fundamentalist Christians among Trump’s supporters fear the end is nigh – and they’re not the only ones…Read More
Our mention of urban myths in the last issue triggered another recollection. A study, the details of which are forgotten but it may have been for a Masters or PhD, focused on Irish urban myths, and found that a significant source of those myths was none other than the broadcaster Gay Byrne.Read More
The Hillsborough disaster is once again in the news. It’s an episode that has uncomfortable parallels with the Grenfell Towers tragedy.Read More
The daily papers carried news of Enda Kenny’s retirement as leader of Fine Gael on May 18, which just happened to be the birthday of Omar Khayyam, the Persian poet, philosopher and polymath. Coincidence? Yes. That said, it was Khayyam who wrote, “The moving finger writes: and, having written moves on: nor all thy piety nor with shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all thy tears wash out a word of it”.Read More
Planning in Ireland has always been inadequate – with the result that our cities and towns have a Gerry-built quality. But with iconic buildings and better civic spaces on the way, that may be about to change…Read More
Railing against “elites” has become a big trend amongst extremists on both the right and left. However, we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water.Read More
The planet was already heading towards a crisis. But political forces have recently been unleashed which will surely accelerate that process – and fast! So what will the world be like in 2040? It is a deeply troubling question…Read More
Ahead of Trump's Inauguration tomorrow, Hot Press reflects on global politics and what the next four years could hold.Read More
The memory of those momentous events has inspired us to think again about the idea of the Republic, and what it means. But it is the future that really counts – not the past.Read More
Sadly, it is just one among many forces that are driving the world towards a scary place. No wonder optimism is currently in short supply…Read More
Leaked details of American government surveillance suggest we are not as far removed from the era of the KGB and Stasi as we’d like to think...Read More
As revelations about the US National Security Agency’s covert surveillance confirm, the digital world is one in which everything you do can be traced – by the State and corporations alike…Read More
The bombing of the Boston Marathon was a senseless act of violence. But what was the rationale behind it?Read More
That is the conclusion offered by Ben Goldacre in Bad Pharma. It is just one more reason to re-examine the illogic of the War On Drugs...Read More
Fundamentalist religious intolerance is on the rise in Nigeria, the USA, Pakistan and points beyond...Read More
Good old Keef’s autobiography is every bit as entertaining and enlightening as you might expect. Even more entertaining, though, is the turmoil which has engulfed Rupert Murdoch’s media empire in recent weeks...Read More
The latest round of mobile phone scare stories shows what happens when bad science conspires with lazy journalism.Read More
There has been a rush to eulogise the late Brian Lenihan – and rightly so. The truth is that he was a decent politician handed the most poisoned chalice in the history of the StateRead More
Political upheaval inevitably creates a wave of refugees and the Arab uprisings have proved no different. The real is question is, how should Europe respond to the human rights tragedy on its doorstep?Read More
A general election looms – but what shape will the new Government take? And will real reforms to our political life follow?Read More
Ireland has been plunged into unprecedented financial turmoil. Well, with Christmas on the way, it's time for the bond holders to take their share of the pain...Read More
The fightback against Ireland's financial mismanagement may have startedRead More
Hallowe’en is a time of monsters, ghosts and ghouls. Except that this year, we didn’t have to make ‘em up...Read More
The leadership and comradeship demonstrated by the Chilean miners are sorely lacking in Ireland at the moment.Read More
Our worst fears have come true – the bankers have bankrupted Ireland for a generation. What to do now? Well for one thing, let’s stop despairing. And when the next election comes around, be prepared to make your vote count...Read More
Our columnist reflects on the little-reported matter of the Taoiseach’s appearance on Morning Ireland...Read More
Why the Icelandic Volcano is the Perfect Metaphor for our AgeRead More
Why the arts sector may well provide the key to Ireland’s economic renewal.Read More
The latest revelations about the failure of the State to protect vulnerable children underlines the fact that we need to start finding solutions.Read More
Our columnist on why anti-intellectualism is rife in Ireland.Read More
What the continued presence of the Angelus on our airwaves says about secularism in modern Ireland...Read More
As well as forcing Ireland to reassess its attitude towards Europe, the second Lisbon referendum was a reminder of just how nasty British euroskeptics such as UKIP really areRead More
The economy may be swirling down the plughole, but Ireland has a rich history of entrepreneurship. We need to build on this.Read More
Centres Of Excellence may seem like a good idea – but access is a fundamental consideration in cancer care and other health issues...Read More
There is a lot wrong with the report from An Bord Snip Nua. In particular, it reflects a complete ignorance of the importance of art.Read More
There's been no lack of scandals rocking this country in recent years – but does that justify the huge outpourings of hysteria in the media recently? And just what is the difference between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael?Read More
It is right that the religious should have to pay for the appalling actions of their members, and the cover-ups for which the religious bosses were responsible. But we should not forget the part that the State played.Read More
As fiscal Armageddon looms, the Irish Government is faced with tough choices. In considering its options, it would do well to remember the lessons to be learned from past experience – in particular the fact that the Poll Tax marked the beginning of the end for Margaret ThatcherRead More
The issue of how best to raise money for the country’s depleted coffers is a vexing one.Read More
The world economy is crumbling, but while other countries are overturning inept governments, we’re doing what we’re best at: moaning to anyone who will listen.Read More
Will the election of Barack Obama to the White House usher in a new era of peace and global harmony? Or is there a danger we are pinning too much hope on the shoulders of one man?Read More
...Or at least it does where Halloween is concerned, as the old pagan feast is transformed into an orgy of amateur pyrotechnics, civil disobedience and open-air boozing.Read More
Our economy is caught in the eye of the storm and the global financial system teeters on the brink. How long will the recession last and how will Ireland fare?Read More
The global economic meltdown of the past fortnight is a ruinous consequence of Ronald Reagan's '80s crusade against regulation. The question now is: where will it end?Read More
Having spent decades trying to cast off the legacy of colonialism are we now in danger of being sucked into the anglosphere at the cost of our European identity?Read More
The most yawnful month of the year is upon us, but thankfully politics and sport are keeping the flame alight: the games have already begun.Read More
The twin spectres of recession and emigration may loom large, but that's no reason for the media to make things worse by indulging in gross exaggerationRead More
The Lisbon Treaty makes unlikely bedfellows of left and right. So what are we to read into this?Read More
It's been good to know ya. He had his faults, but there was a lot to like about the Taoiseach. And the fact that he was central to achieving peace in the North will be a lasting legacy.Read More
There'll be plenty of time to grow old and boring later. If you're not engaged in honest, direct, idealistic political activity while you're young, there's something badly wrong....Read More
With Archbishop Diarmuid Martin seeking to undo much of the harm and distrust caused by his predecessor, Cardinal Desmond Connell, could we at last be seeing a change in the Church's attitude to victims of sexual abuse?Read More
While An Taoiseach insists that being presented with thousands of pounds in a suitcase by shady businessmen is completely ‘normal’, the rest of us have our doubts.Read More
Contrary to anti-immigrant mythology, England’s Browns, Smiths and Taylors still outnumber the Singhs, Hussains and Ali’s.Read More
Would illegal Roma immigrants be treated differently if they were Nigerian or Somali? Are economic refugees suffering from a rose-tinted view of life in Ireland?Read More
There are few, if any, people who remain unconvinced that Joe O’Reilly was responsible for the brutal murder of his wife Rachel.Read More
Last year’s bumper harvest of Afghan opium is about to hit our shores. Meanwhile, cocaine’s popularity in Ireland rises to unprecedented levels.Read More
It’s a different world than it used to be! In this special extended birthday column, The Hog takes a necessarily selective – and typically colourful – look at the 30 most important influences on the process of change that has brought this country all the way from there to… well, where else but here?Read More
Now the votes have been counted and the losers have dried their tears, The Hog wonders what the whole thing means.Read More
With elections this year on both sides of the border, maybe the only antidote is, literally, a breath of fresh air.Read More
Europe shivers and draws its blankets tight around itself. Is global warming becoming too obvious to ignore?Read More
Bird ‘flu, bogmen and Armageddon. Business as usual on Planet Earth AD '06. Only more so.Read More
The fall of the Republican party in the US has been hailed as good news, but perhaps we should not be too optimistic about what the future holds as the Democrats prepare to take over Capitol Hill.Read More
The Israeli army has deliberately targeted civilians in Lebanon and behaved like a terrorist gang. Their excuses will only convince the terminally gullible.Read More
Surveillance technology can apprehend but not comprehend. Who’s watching the watchers?Read More
The chattering classes express revulsion at Young Ireland's spitting, shouting and shagging, but their piety masks a disgust at anything youthful and working class.Read More
For the most part, St. Patrick's Day festivities in Ireland went off without undue hassle. But Official Ireland still got itself into a lather.Read More
The continuing influx of immigrants into Ireland means that our old ideas of national identity are becoming increasingly redundant.Read More
The continuing influx of immigrants into Ireland means that our old ideas of national identity are becoming increasingly redundant.Read More
The recent arrest of eight republican activists marks a hugely significant watershed in recent Irish history.Read More
Peace in the North will remain impossible until Gerry Adams and co. cease their continual distortion of the facts.Read More
After the Northern Bank Heist, the climate has changed and other parties are now putting it up to the Shinners.Read More
Former ministers under pressure; decentralisation a non-starter; the guards in the dock – no wonder Charlie McCreevey has fled to Europe.Read More
the crackdown on fibber magee’s once again proves that the goverenment has got its priorities completely wrong.Read More
Despite how the result of the citizenship referendum has been interpreted by some, ireland is not a racist society. but we do need some calm and honest discussion about immigration.Read More
Michael McDowell and co’s recent referendum prompted our columnist to analyse what exactly we mean when we talk about citizenship.Read More
Back in the days of the Wild West, Judge Roy Bean presided over his court as ‘the law west of the Pecos’. Rough and ready, and largely self-taught, his constituency included chancers, fleeing miscreants, vagabonds, thieves, murderers as well as homesteaders and frontier entrepreneurs.Read More
One of the few people who might be happier at the end of the year than the beginning is Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf who was the Iraqi regime’s spin-doctor and publicist during the war.Read More
This was the year that a lot of frustration boiled over, steaming and fuming and effing to high heaven. A major target was the LUAS, Dublin’s answer to a question that’s out of date and wasn’t being asked anyway, a white elephant generated by people who were besotted with the idea that trams are, to quote Frank McDonald of the Irish Times, ‘civilising’.Read More
The Great Chat-Show War didn’t quite turn out to be the promised Mother of All Battles. Although in some ways it did: like Saddam’s first war, it was all over in less than a 100 days.Read More
For once, and don’t hold your breath for the future, we had a really brilliant summer. Couldn’t have been better. What would ya be going to Spain for, sure isn’t this even better? It was just mighty.Read More
There are those who argue that the best that Northern Ireland can hope for is dreariness. They’ll have been disappointed this year, so. It’s been grim instead, and right from the off.Read More
The Coalition blitzkrieg on Iraq is part of a wider “war on terror.” says George Bush. To justify this claim, he and Tony Blair made one feeble attempt at being as hard on the causes of terror as on terror itself, when they collaborated with the UN, the EU and Russia to publish what they called the Middle East ‘road map’.Read More
How intolerant can we become? It’s a challenging question. We have already become one of the least tolerant and aggressive societies on earth. Few can compete. But 2003 witnessed an upsurge in control culture. This is especially the case in ‘official’ circles. There are six causes.Read More
Having been returned triumphantly to office in 2002, Bertie Ahern might have expected things to rock gently along this year. But instead, he’s been through a mincer and it’s not over yet.Read More
Portents of war came thick and fast. The US ordered 11,000 desert-trained troops to the Gulf region in January. Let the spin commence.Read More
The Whole Hog and other regular Hot Press columnists, look back on a year in which, with some notable exceptions, the message seemed to be – up yours.Read More
The survival of the Good Friday Agreement hangs by a thread following last week’s assembly elections.Read More
Never one to shirk a challenge. The Whole Hog attempts to tackle the question which has perplexed many a theologian over the millenia. DoesRead More
With the Celtic Tiger years an increasingly distant memory, dissatisfaction at how Bertie Ahern’s administration has has handled the economic downturn is growing by the day.Read More
The Irish health system and our attitude to the disabled desperately needs a rethinkRead More
That’s Northern European Protestant by the way. And it’s what we newly godless people are turning into as we increasingly take our moral cues from the nanny stateRead More
The great and the good have imagined a new Ireland. Now it’s our turnRead More