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Irish spend most on alcohol in EU

Posted: Fri 02/06/2006]

By Deborah Condon

People in Ireland spend a higher proportion of their income on alcohol than any other country in the EU, a major new report has found.

According to the report, the average Irish household spends €1,675 per year on alcohol. This is three times the amount spent by the next country on the list - Denmark at €531. (This referred to the original 15 EU members prior to enlargement.)

The report also found Irish people to be the biggest binge drinkers in the EU, particularly young people. In fact, almost one in three (32%) 15 and 16-year-olds binge drink three or more times a month.

Commenting on the findings, the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) said they were 'no big surprise'.

"For many years, we have been ringing the alarm bells on this issue and have campaigned for action to be taken to protect young Irish people from alcohol. However inaction from a Government that continues to put business interests before public health interests has only see the problem grow", said NYCI director, Mary Cunningham.

Irish people meanwhile rarely consume alcohol with food, something often linked to Mediterranean countries. In fact, 80% of alcohol consumed in Ireland is without food.

The report found that overall, the EU is the heaviest drinking region in the world. The most popular type of alcohol is beer, followed by wine and then spirits.

It notes that in every culture ever studied, men are more likely than women to drink at all. They also drink more. However while many women give up alcohol when pregnant, 'a significant number (25 - 50%) continue to drink and some continue to drink to harmful levels'.

The total social cost of alcohol in Europe in 2003 was estimated to be €125 billion, or €650 per household. These costs arise in many different areas including the workplace (€59 billion) and healthcare and treatment (€22 billion).

The health impact of alcohol is vast. According to the report:

-It is responsible for 7.4% of all ill health and early death in the EU.

-It is responsible for 115,000 deaths in people under the age of 70 and is the leading cause of death in young men in the EU.

-Between five and nine million children live in homes adversely affected by alcohol.

-Alcohol is a factor in 2,000 murders in the EU every year.

The report made a number of recommendations, including the establishment of a European Alcohol Monitoring Centre and alcohol surveillance programmes across Europe. It also recommends:

-A maximum blood alcohol concentration limit of 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. A lower limit of 20 milligrams should apply to young drivers and drivers of public service and heavy goods vehicles. (Currently in Ireland, the limit is 80 milligrams. The Transport Minister recently proposed applying a zero alcohol limit to new drivers.)

-Unrestricted powers to use breathalysers on drivers.

-Alcohol products should carry warning labels.

-A range of increasingly severe penalties against sellers and distributors, such as withdrawal of licence or temporary and permanent closures, should be implemented.

The report was carried out on behalf of the European Commission by the UK-based Institute of Alcohol Studies.

For more on Ireland's costly love affair with alcohol, see our feature at...

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