DOCTORS today demanded a ban on alcohol sponsorship of sporting events warning the drinks industry is “grooming” child drinkers.
And one of the country’s leading doctors claimed sporting bodies were “in the pocket” of the industry.
In a presentation to the Oireachtas Transport and Communications Committee, Dr William Flannery, of the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland, called for a ban on all alcohol sponsorship, advertising or marketing.
He said the drinks industry was targeting adolescent children, and sponsorship was linked to the early onset of alcohol use.
Dr Flannery said alcohol was now involved in 24pc of all attempted suicides here and is even higher for young men with harmful drink patterns.
He told the committee that children under 12 years of age that he was treating had greeted him with “ What’s up”, a slogan for Budweiser beer.
“I say stop to the drinks industry and ban all alcohol, advertising, sponsorship and marketing,” he added.
Dr Bobby Smith, of Alcohol Action Ireland, said he asked his eight year old to name one tobacco brand but he was unable to do so. However, when asked about alcohol brands, his son was able to name Guinness and Heineken.
Dr Smith said alcohol is a factor in half of all suicides, and one in four of all deaths in the 15-29 age group.
“There is no product on the planet that could cause more harm,” he said.”
A total of 300,000 children are going to start drinking in the next five years.
“They are the real targets of alcohol sponsorship,” added Dr Smith.
“ We facilitate the alcohol industry to groom our children to be the next generation of problem drinkers.”
There was clear evidence showing the link between alcohol sponsorship in sport and increased alcohol use and mis-use, he added.
Dr Smith called for leadership, and cited the success of the smoking ban which was copied across Europe.
France brought in a ban on alcohol sponsorship of sport – the Heineken cup is called the ‘H’ cup there – which Dr Smith said led to a reduction in consumption and alcohol-related domestic abuse in the years afterwards.
A Department of Health steering group last year proposed the phasing out of alcohol sponsorship of sporting and cultural events by 2016.
Today, Dr Joe Barry, also of Alcohol Action Ireland, told the Dail committee that alcohol marketing had a big influence on young people, with lasting long-term effects.
He said the evidence was that young people exposed to alcohol marketing “drank earlier, and heavier”.
“It is causing harm, and is a big problem,” he said.
According to Dr Barry, the sporting bodies were “ in the alcohol industry’s pocket.”
At a previous committee meeting, the heads of the GAA, FAI and IRFU, outlined the adverse financial impact of a ban on their organisations.
Today, Dr Barry said the gap in the revenue stream could be replaced by some of the excise duty on alcohol.