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Sinn Féin respond to anti-binge drinking campiagn launch

16 October, 2006

Responding to the launch today of the Health Promotion Agency's anti-binge drinking campaign by direct rule minister, Paul Goggins, Sinn Féin health spokesperson John O'Dowd MLA said:

"Sinn Féin believes that addressing the impact of alcohol on public health must be the major imperative and determining factor influencing the Department of Health and other departments in the Six Counties. We know and recognise, as does the broader community, that alcohol is not merely another tradable commodity. Worldwide medical evidence demonstrates that alcohol, unlike benign or healthful products, is a drug that, when misused, is second only to tobacco use as a preventable cause of death and hospitalisation.

"Current British government policy has already been altered to attempt to address the issue of tobacco harm through legislative control. We believe there is now an opportunity to do likewise in order to commence addressing the issue of alcohol harm. Sinn Féin believes that public health policies concerning alcohol need to be formulated by public health interests, without interference from commercial interests.

"The Six Counties' health record in relation to alcohol is extremely disturbing. According to the Health Promotion Agency, the social cost (including direct and indirect financial costs to the Health Service) of alcohol-related physical and mental problems was estimated to be at least £700 million annually. The same source showed that there were at least 246 deaths directly related to alcohol last year People living in the most deprived areas continue to be more likely to die of an alcohol-related death than those in the least deprived areas.

"In the Six Counties in 1996/97, there were 2,449 deaths and discharges (D&Ds) from hospitals with an alcohol-related primary or secondary diagnosis, accounting for 9,083 occupied bed days (Source: DHSS, Regional Information Branch, 1998). This figure had risen dramatically to 4,714 D&Ds by 2004 (Hansard). The acute effects of intoxication are well known to the staff of Accident and Emergency (A&E) Departments, with up to 70% of night time attendances at accident and emergency departments being alcohol related and the accompanying destructive consequences for the quality of family life and the health of children.

"Sinn Féin takes this opportunity to remind the British Government of its duties and responsibilities under the European Alcohol Action Plan 2000 - 2005. In particular, the EAAP stated that, by the year 2005, in relation to the availability of alcohol products, all countries of the European Region should:

- reduce the level of under-age drinking, especially among the very young.

Recommended actions to achieve these outcomes included the following:

- develop a taxation policy that ensures a high real price of alcohol, taxation based on alcohol volume (i.e. higher taxes on alcoholic beverages with a higher alcohol content), and the provision of non-alcoholic beverages at low prices;

- use alcohol taxes to fund alcohol control activities, including health education, research into alcohol policy, and support to health services at both local and national levels;

- control the availability of alcohol by restricting or at least keeping in check the number of outlets where alcohol is sold under licensing laws, limiting the number of licences and restricting hours or days of sale.

"In our response to the recent liquor licensing consultation, we argued that British government proposals ran contrary to these recommended actions as it was highly likely that the British proposals to amend licensing legislation in order to primarily increase competition in the retail alcohol sector wouldl undoubtedly result in greater numbers and types of outlets selling alcohol." ENDS

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