herald

Saturday 24 August 2019

Report of youngsters drinking less criticised by alcohol campaigner

Dr Bobby Smyth criticised the report by the IARD
Dr Bobby Smyth criticised the report by the IARD

New research has revealed the number of Irish youngsters aged 15 and 16 who drank alcohol fell from half to just over one-third between 2011 and 2015.

However, the study, which was funded by a number of alcohol producers, has been questioned by a public health doctor.

The report by the Inter- national Alliance for Responsible Drinking (IARD), whose members and affiliates include Bacardi, the Carlsberg Group, Diageo and Heineken, claimed under-age alcohol consumption has declined in Ireland.

The research said that in 2011, 50pc of those aged 15 and 16 had consumed alcohol in the previous month, while in 2015 this number had fallen to 35pc.

Dr Bobby Smyth, a consultant adolescent psychiatrist and leading lobbyist with Alcohol Action Ireland, criticised the report.

"This is old data and numbers, focusing in on one area of adolescent alcohol use," he said.

"What doctors see is the number of young people running into problems with drinking and the patterns of drinking among those who drink.

"These are figures from 2011 and 2015.

"The general population has moved upwards, so for lots of reasons this is rehashing old data from the alcohol industry, which funds the group who put together this research."

Dr Smyth called for an independent group to carry out research into the current situation and pointed to other data.

Figures from a Freedom of Information request showed that more than 1,100 cases of children with illnesses related to alcohol or drugs were treated in Irish hospitals last year.

Bombarded

Around 290 of those cases involved minors under the age of 10. However, the figures only acc- ounted for day and in-patients and not those in emergency rooms and out-patients.

Patricia Callan, director of the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI), said the IARD research "confirms that Ireland is moving in the right direction when it comes to under-age drinking".

"We believe that under-age drinking should absolutely never occur and work hard to ensure that our products are aimed at an adult audience only, for responsible consumption," she said.

Dr Smyth claimed young people were still being "bombarded" with media images of alcohol being linked to sporting and even sexual prowess.

"We can reduce children and adolescents' access to alcohol," he said.

"That's the way forward and to stop it being sold at pocket-money prices in local shops.

"If we really want to do something to make an impact, that's what needs to happen.

"But this report is an attempt to stop legislation, and August is a quiet month to package old data and gain lots of traction and coverage.

"There are major health impacts to under-age drinking. There are deaths by misadventure due to alcohol.

"Young people are doing irresponsible things while drunk."

A set price for alcohol is being processed by Health Minister Simon Harris after statistics showed minimum unit pricing introduced in Scotland last year had had an impact and had seen a drop to the lowest levels of alcohol consumption since the 1990s.

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