'Give teens free gym pass to stop drinking' - Catherine Noone
Ireland's serious problem with teenage binge-drinking could be tackled with subsidised membership of sports and music clubs, says Senator Catherine Noone.
Iceland significantly reduced alcohol abuse by giving each young person a card for €350-worth of free membership of gyms, sports clubs, dance and music schools and youth organisations, she said.
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All parents with children aged between six and 18 who were residents of Reykjavik were entitled to receive a leisure card for each child.
Parental involvement in young people joining in healthy sports and cultural activities has been a key factor in the success achieved in Iceland, said Ms Noone.
"There was a dramatic decrease in binge-drinking over a relatively short time," she said.
In 1998, a survey found 42pc of young people aged 15 and 16 had become drunk in the previous month. But by 2014, that figure fell to only 6pc. Smoking of cannabis also decreased dramatically in the same period, she said.
The leisure card was one of a series of measures taken to tackle the problem of teen binge-drinking in Iceland.
Other measures included banning all advertising for alcohol on television, radio and billboards, and raising the legal drinking age to 20.
"The subsidised leisure activities, the parental involvement and the ban on advertising all helped in achieving success," she said.
Icelandic youth now spend more time with family and are participating more often in organised sports and other organised leisure activities.
The Fine Gael senator said Ireland could learn valuable lessons from Iceland's success.
Binge-drinking behaviour among Irish adults tends to start in the teenage years. Irish women are among the heaviest drinkers in the world, placed fourth in an alcohol consumption league table of 189 countries. Overall, Irish adults are fifth in the world in terms of total alcohol consumption.
Ms Noone supports planned legislation to outlaw below-cost selling of alcohol. A similar move helped reduce binge-drinking in Scotland.
"Drink has become so unbelievably cheap that, in certain cases, is harmful in itself. I support legislation on below-cost selling because a lot of the time supermarkets advertise a beer as a loss leader.
"It makes sense as a business thing to do but it is very dangerous to our population," she said.
"It is making alcohol like any other commodity in the shops and I don't think alcohol was ever intended to be like bread or milk or butter. It is a substance that causes families serious problems. At the end of the day, Ireland has a big problem with moderation.
"People have several drinks on a night out. It is the way we roll as a country. Other countries don't drink like that. It's a habit."
She is in favour of ending the sponsorship of sports by alcohol companies but organisations must first be encouraged to seek funding from other non-alcohol companies willing to sponsor sport.
"If we are trying to fight our different and dangerous relationship with alcohol, we have to be very serious about it, no matter how much it hurts some companies' pockets," she said.
She was also in favour of educating school pupils about the problems of alcohol abuse. Such education could be part of lifestyle classes which could also deal with the problems arising from social media.