At the annual Winter Scientific meeting this Wednesday 8 December, there will be short presentations on four key alcohol-related issues: an examination of the development of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, 2017- 2018 (Dr Ciara Gilmartin), the implications of changes in alcohol trading hours on consumption and harms (Dr Ciara Reynolds), harmful alcohol consumption in elite sports players in Ireland (Dr Ann Herlihy) and the association between alcohol intake and obesity in a sample of the Irish adult population (Dr Salma Rashid).
Dr Mary O’ Mahony, Specialist in Public Health Medicine and the HSE’s National Clinical Lead on the Prevention of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders says this is an opportune time for Irish research to inform national alcohol policy, with the proposed new Sale of Alcohol Bill potentially paving the way for extensions to trading hours and to the range of outlets which can sell alcohol.
“Such an extension would serve to undermine the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 and is contrary to World Health Organization (WHO) advice. The WHO SAFER Framework Preventing and Reducing Alcohol-Related Harms identifies the three best and most cost-effective buys to reduce the harm from alcohol and those are: increasing the price of alcohol, reducing the availability of alcohol and banning or restricting the marketing of alcohol.”, Dr O’ Mahony said.
“The widespread accessibility and availability of alcohol is central to sustaining Ireland’s difficult relationship with alcohol. The challenges to public order and safety which will arise if trading hours are further extended will undoubtedly place further pressure on public services such as our hardworking emergency services, the Gardaí, National Ambulance Service and our Emergency Departments.”, she added.
The European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL) and The Lancet (EASL-Lancet Liver Commission) published a landmark report on liver disease in Europe on Friday 3 December. The report found that alcohol is a major contributor to Europe’s liver disease burden, being responsible for at least 50% of cirrhosis cases and is the leading cause of liver-related mortality across the continent. Liver disease is now the second leading cause of years of working life lost in Europe.
The Liver Commission wants European governments to unite on alcohol policy, calling for a complete ban of alcohol advertising, sponsorship and promotion, including across all social and digital media platforms. This call was endorsed by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in her keynote speech at the launch of the report:
“Each year, almost 300,000 people in Europe die prematurely due to problems of the liver. Many of them could have lived longer and healthier lives. Because today, in most European countries, there is good access to secondary care.”
“And in most cases, liver disease can be prevented. Prevention is the best cure that we have. So together, we need to raise more awareness of the preventable and treatable nature of many chronic illnesses.”
The Faculty of Public Health Winter Scientific Meeting Part I takes place as a webinar on Wednesday 8 December from 10.30 a.m. – 12.30 p.m.
The Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 aims to reduce alcohol consumption at the population level through progressive measures including minimum unit pricing, structural separation and advertising restrictions. The Bill was introduced by the Irish Government in 2015 and took 1,000 days to pass. Intense lobbying was conducted in 2017 and 2018 and a critical discourse analytical (CDA) lens was applied to the lobbying correspondence. Tentative findings show: the coherence present in the public health advocacy; the tensions within commercial actors’ arguments; and ideological dilemmas present within some commercial campaigns. CDA can provide insight into the power of language to persuade and shape debate, and contribute to making the political process more transparent in the development of public health law.
Alcohol trading hours were recently increased in Northern Ireland. In Ireland, the Night-time Economy Taskforce has proposed an increase in trading hours as part of alcohol licensing reform. This study, a rapid review of systematic reviews, investigates the potential impact of these changes on levels of alcohol consumption and alcohol related harms. Systematic reviews provide high quality reliable evidence to guide practice. Four systematic reviews were included. Extending alcohol trading hours was reported to increase alcohol-related harms including alcohol consumption, unintentional injury, alcohol-related hospitalisations and emergency department visits, homicides, crime, violence and assaults, drink driving offences and road traffic collisions. Restricting trading hours can lead to reductions in alcohol-related harms. It is concluded that an extension of trading hours is a public health concern and public health considerations should inform any amendment of alcohol licensing laws.
An anonymous web-based questionnaire was administered to all elite Gaelic footballers and hurlers and 717 players participated. AUDIT-C, a validated questionnaire, was used to asses alcohol intake. The players were of mean age 24 years, a majority were male (75%), unmarried (93%) and had completed university (67%). Ninety six percent (96%) were current drinkers. Amongst the current drinkers, 73% exhibited adverse alcohol use, 93% reported binge drinking and 65% an alcohol related harm in the past year. More alcohol was consumed during the off season. Excess alcohol consumption, alcohol related harms and binge drinking are prevalent in this elite sporting population in Ireland.
Obesity is increasing worldwide. Harmful alcohol drinking is associated with obesity. The 2017 Healthy Ireland survey involved 7,486 participants, a response rate of 60.4%. Most (86%) reported alcohol consumption with almost half reporting harmful consumption. The AUDIT-C, a validated questionnaire, assessed alcohol intake. In this study, Dr Rashid found that frequent binge drinkers were more likely to have large waist circumference. The association between alcohol consumption and obesity warrants further study.