A SENIOR figure in Ireland's efforts to tackle alcohol abuse has said that education through schools and mass media campaigns has failed.
At a recent presentation to a Dublin joint policing committee meeting, Dr Ann Hope, a former adviser at the Department of Health, outlined a number of policies on alcohol that are simply not working.
With a national substance strategy due to be completed shortly and Alcohol Action Ireland (AAI) preparing its pre-budget report for submission, alcohol misuse is now firmly on the agenda.
However, despite Hope's claims, based on research by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the state continues to use both schools and media as a conduit for alcohol education.
In 2009, the Health Service Executive (HSE) – which is tasked with promotion – spent around €400,000 on mass media including broadcast and outdoor advertising, a website and leaflet campaign.
Among a wide range of other promotional elements, the HSE also funds school-based education, both primary and post-primary, through local initiatives and the Social and Personal Health Education Programme.
In Dublin North East, a special module on alcohol and substance abuse is included in summer courses for teachers at secondary level.
Speaking at the recent policing committee, Hope pointed out that while some measures have an impact – taxes, regulating availability and drink-driving countermeasures – others do not.
Outside of school and media, she highlighted advertising content regulations, industry self-regulation, warning labels and alcohol-free activities.
The awareness lobby is keen to stress other areas too, with AAI calling for a base price at which alcohol can be sold in shops, insisting that misuse is directly linked to pricing.
In a survey last week, the Sunday Tribune found that the bulk purchase of a variety of alcohol types is possible on a very limited budget.
For just under €50, it was possible to buy 38 bottles of beer, six Fat Frog alco-pops, two bottles of wine and a 200ml bottle of vodka, working out at about 79 cent a drink.
"We need to introduce market-based price controls," said AAI director Fiona Ryan, who added that while there was a place for education programmes, they could not work alone.
"We would call for the introduction of a minimum floor-based price beneath which alcohol cannot be sold.
"Minimum pricing will affect those who are the heaviest drinkers and kids; it will not affect moderate drinkers."
According to the recent Rand Report by the European Commission's Department of Health, it is now 50% cheaper to drink at home than it was 15 years ago.
The alcohol market here is said to be worth in excess of €6bn a year and as a country, we are still trying to come to terms with how we monitor its use and tackle binge-drinking.
Ireland is the third largest consumer of alcohol in the world and, according to the country's chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, 100 people a month die from alcohol-related illness or accidents, translating to one person every seven hours.
Two thousand beds are occupied every night in hospitals due to alcohol and it is estimated that every year taxpayers hand over €3,318 each to meet related health bills.