A VICTORY for public health in a ‘David versus Goliath’ battle is how the HSE Co-Ordinator of Drug and Alcohol Services in Cork described the passing of the Public Health Alcohol Bill in the Dáil.
David Lane said he felt relief and joy when he heard the news on a radio bulletin in the car that the bill had finally passed after more than 1,000 days in the Oireachtas.
The landmark legislation will introduce minimum unit prices for alcohol, thereby ending the sale of “dirt cheap” drinks, and introduce cancer warnings on alcoholic products.
Mr Lane said: “When you are working on something for so long and doubting if it would be successful, it is just fantastic.”
As a realist, he cautioned that the bill would not solve all problems, but finally, he said there was legislation to underpin an effective response to alcohol.
“The drinks industry did as much as they could to water it down or prevent it from passing,” Mr Lane said.
“Their bottom line is profits and sales. Ours is public health.”
However, it will take several years before the changes are fully introduced and the drinks industry may appeal some elements of the bill to European authorities.
Mr Lane estimated that it would take a decade or more to see the real benefits in terms of deaths from alcohol abuse, public order offences and the breakdown of relationships.
“It will take quite a while, it will be a gradual shift for people, but the minimum unit pricing will bring an end to dirt cheap alcohol which should have an early effect and it will make a difference.”
The bill will also introduce segregation of alcohol sales in shops from other grocery items.
As well as this, there are restrictions on alcohol advertising in public places such as parks, open spaces and within 200 metres of schools, creches and playgrounds.
There is also an amendment to phase out all sponsorship by drinks companies of sporting events by the end of December 2023.
Mr Lane, who has been working with drugs and alcohol for the past 18 years, said that the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which has been before the Oireachtas since 2015, would have a similar effect to the smoking ban brought in in 2004.
“We have a bigger problem around alcohol compared to smoking and it will take more time in terms of what is stitched into our society, but it is a big step.”
Mr Lane said he first started working on an alcohol strategy in 2013/2014 and it took four to five year to get the bill put together and passed. “We are not finished by any means. We have a continuing fight on our hands, but there is certainly a celebratory mood amongst our colleagues today,” he said.