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Underage drinking

Reducing demand and tackling supply


ABFI is totally opposed to underage drinking and the misuse of alcohol associated with it. Our members strive to ensure that their products are aimed at an adult audience only. We take our responsibilities seriously and believe in a coordinated approach to tackling underage consumption.

Research shows that underage drinking is common in Ireland, as one in four 16–17 year olds claim to drink alcohol, at least once a week. In order to tackle underage drinking, the Irish drinks industry, society and those closest to children have an important role to play. For example education, the provision of alternative facilities for young people and parental responsibility are crucial.

More details on these recommendations can be seen below and in our policy on empowering communities.

ABFI fully supports the work of Mature Enjoyment of Alcohol in Society (MEAS), an independent body, in its Is your thinking affecting their drinking? campaign. This campaign aims to remind us all that adults are important role models for children, especially when it comes to drinking. We also welcome MEAS’s Alcohol- A Guide to Parents booklet, 135,000 copies of which have been distributed.

The drinks industry is already playing its part, through the Responsible Serving of Alcohol (RSA) programme which, among other goals, aims to prevent alcohol sales to those under 18. Almost 10,000 hotel, bar, nightclub and restaurant owners and staff have attended RSA training to date. The programme is delivered in the form of interactive workshops, using ‘real situations’ or case studies to help reinforce skills and encourage discussion among participants.
In tandem with efforts to reduce demand for alcohol from minors, the Government needs to enforce measures to prevent the sale of alcohol to those below the age of 18.


The most effective way to prevent the sale of alcohol to minors is through the introduction of a mandatory national identity card. This card needs to be issued to every resident of Ireland upon their 18th birthday.

We believe the scheme should be administered by An Garda Siochana.

At present, for those who are asked to show proof of age, there are a plethora of options: passports, driving licences, the Garda Age Card, university and student union membership cards, etc. As well as producing these cards, the individual is free to say that he/she holds none of them, while the Garda Age Card is the only acceptable form of ID allowable in court. This situation is ineffective at preventing the sale of alcohol to young people.

The introduction of a National Identity Card to every adult would improve the situation, as this would become the only acceptable identity card (besides the use of a valid passport for foreign nationals).

Upon the introduction of such a card, ABFI recommends that the on- and off-trade retail sector would agree that the only acceptable form of identification would be the National Identity Card or, in the case of a foreign national, a valid passport.

However, ABFI recognises that there are many practical difficulties with such a scheme, including the cost to the State and the civil liberties issues it raises. With this in mind, if the introduction of this suggested scheme is not feasible, the next best option would be to make the Garda Age Card more widely available, through the abolition of the €10 charge.

ABFI also supports strict penalties for those found guilty of forgery of methods of identification or of secondary purchasing of alcohol for minors.

We do not support traceability mechanisms, such as labels on packaged alcohol products that are consumed off premises. The power to enforce such measures is contained in Section 17 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 2000. However, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform never signed the Ministerial Order to enact it, due to expert legal advice and its limited evidential value in Court.

Other measures we recommend to tackle underage drinking include:

Alternative facilities

ABFI supports increased funding from the Government towards the development of more/better facilities to offer alternatives to underage drinking. These could include the development of alcohol free venues, entertainment facilities, national youth/health fitness programmes, all of which would help foster an alternative culture to youth drinking. According to the MEAS, the vast majority of 12-17 year olds would like to see more non-alcohol based activities and facilities introduced.

We further endorsed this point in the Working Group on Alcohol Misuse, set up under Sustaining Progress, which calls for multiagency community action, combined and delivered through an integrated approach with real participation of all relevant stakeholders.

Targeted interventions

In line with the Strategic Task Force on Alcohol (STFA) and Sustaining Progress Working Group on Alcohol Misuse recommendations, ABFI supports the development of targeted interventions for specific/high-risk sections of the population. These would include:

- school-based programmes: for example, drama-based discussions etc;
- hospitals: alcohol-related attendance at A&E – brief interventions by medical staff;
- public order offenders: brief interventions by the Gardaí;
- GP programmes: training for GPs on how to talk to their patients about alcohol;
- GAA/FAI/IRFU/other sporting organisations: mentoring programme – appointing regional sports role models to build discussions around alcohol misuse and underage alcohol abstinence.

Alcohol education

Ultimately, responsibility for alcohol consumption lies with the individual and in the case of children, with the parents or guardian. Alcohol abuse by minors has greater potential for negative health effects, because of their early stage in physiological and emotional development. Research suggests that early heavy alcohol use by minors has increased negative and potentially long-term effects on certain brain regions and the skeletal system.

This further enforces the point that high risk categories, including young people, require particular attention. Information and education can play an important role in providing skills for responsible decision making in relation to drinking. Mass media and information campaigns – while not a solution in themselves – can play an important part in raising awareness on certain issues.

Education programmes for young people should be integrated into broader community programmes that include information and awareness programmes for adults of all ages. They should be implemented in conjunction with other initiatives that can help to support a culture in which high risk drinking is not acceptable (for example, responsible server training, campaigns to support anti-drink-drive measures, better enforcement of laws prohibiting sales to underage drinkers or intoxicated persons).

Parental training

Parents play an important role in shaping their children’s drinking behaviour by:

- setting a good example with regard to the level and pattern of alcohol that should be consumed;
- providing information on alcohol and its effects;
- setting rules about alcohol consumption, and strictly ensuring they are respected.

Of the 15-17 year olds interviewed in The Irish Times/tns MRBI study of 15-24 year olds, 60% said they drink alcohol and almost half of that group said they were allowed to have an alcoholic drink at home.

Research findings from a MEAS survey indicated that the majority (80%) of those 16 and 17 year olds who will drink alcohol feel that they have some degree of parental sanction.

When combined with the parallel finding of widespread parental ambiguity in relation to rule setting, it would appear that controlled domestic experimentation may be preferable for many parents.

As highlighted, it is not an uncommon practice for parents to introduce children to alcohol in a safe and moderate way. ABFI, therefore, believes that parents should be provided with education material on how and what to communicate to their children, depending on age and gender.

Reduction of exposure of young people to advertising

ABFI is committed to the responsible marketing of alcoholic beverages and supports the appropriate placement of alcohol advertising to minimise its exposure to minors. ABFI is committed to the co-regulation of responsible marketing through the implementation of effective and comprehensive voluntary industry-wide codes. In Ireland, these codes cover advertising content and placement, with additional measures to pre-vet all alcohol advertising, as a control mechanism in the co-regulatory process. This issue is dealt with in detail under our advertising, sponsorship and marketing policy.

In conclusion, ABFI fully supports any partnership approach, which will further develop the strategies, as described above.

Confiscation of alcohol from minors and test purchasing

ABFI fully supports the powers granted to An Garda Siochana to confiscate any alcohol held by someone under the legal drinking age, and to allow for ‘test purchasing’ by minors in outlets suspected of flouting the law and providing alcohol to under age purchasers.

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© Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI), 2008
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