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Ireland counts the cost of drinking

Wednesday September 22, 06:18 PM

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Binge drinking, hangovers and drink-driving cost Ireland 2.65 billion euros (1.8 billion pounds) last year, according to government advisors outlining proposals to address the country's alcohol problems.

"We need to change the cultural attitude to alcohol ..," said Health Minister Micheal Martin on Wednesday.

Responding to a report by Ireland's Strategic Task Force on Alcohol (STFA), Martin said in a statement that the harm caused by alcohol had become a top public health issue.

As the world's second biggest consumer of beer behind the Czech Republic, Ireland sacrificed 2.6 percent of gross national product last year as society paid the price for healthcare, road accidents, crime and absence from work due to alcohol.

The STFA, which estimates that the average adult spent 1,942 euros (1,325 pounds) on alcohol last year, proposed a range of measures.

Higher taxes, greater public awareness, limiting the number of outlets supplying alcohol and reducing the exposure of children to alcohol advertising were among the recommendations, as were controls on promotion at sporting events.

"Alcohol sports sponsorship links masculinity, alcohol and sport," the government advisors said in their 65-page report.

"Alcohol advertising promotes and reinforces positive attitudes about drinking and portrays drinking as fun, glamorous and risk free," they added, pointing out that research showed children were strongly attracted to alcohol advertising.

Ireland, famous for its pubs, had the highest level of binge drinkers in a study of seven European countries, with 58 percent of drinking outings turning into binge sessions among men. For women the rate was 30 percent, the task force said.

To combat drink driving, estimated to be a factor in 40 percent of road deaths last year, the government was advised to introduce random breath tests and to cut the amount drivers can legally drink.

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