Alcohol industry-funded organization Drinkaware is disregarding advise by the HSE and the Department of Health and continues providing training to secondary school teachers in Ireland. The training provided is on how to lead classroom lessons about alcohol.
Drinkaware is funded by major Big Alcohol companies, including Diageo, Bulmers Ireland, and Heineken. The organization has confirmed that to date about 15,000 first-year to third-year students have gone through its schools program.
The HSE and the Health Department are advising schools against getting involved with alcohol industry-funded initiatives. They have clearly stated it is inappropriate for Drinkaware to engage with schools. Nevertheless, the alcohol industry funded group has not stopped its training course. And they refuse to provide copies of the resource they use to train teachers to the HSE.
It is not appropriate that schools use any materials or resources developed by organisations funded by the alcohol industry,” said a spokesperson from the HSE, as per The Irish Examiner.
Drinkaware continues to make the resource available despite the HSE and the Department of Health stating that it is inappropriate.”Spokesperson for the HSE
The HSE co-ordinator of alcohol and other drugs services in the counties Cork and Kerry, David Lane will write to all secondary schools within the week urging them to stop sending teachers to the Drinkaware training program.
We don’t support Drinkaware or anybody else from the [alcohol] industry running training programs for teachers, or in terms of running their kinds of programs in our schools,” said Mr. Lane, as per The Irish Examiner.David Lane, HSE co-ordinator of alcohol and other drugs services in Cork and Kerry
Paula Leonard, the national lead for community of the Alcohol Forum Ireland is drawing parallels with the tobacco industry. The tobacco industry would never be allowed inside schools telling children how to “smoke sensibly.”
It would be socially unacceptable, it would be unacceptable to the Minister for Education, it would be unacceptable to parents, because we now have a population awareness of the strategies of the tobacco industry,” said Ms. Leonard, as per The Irish Examiner.Paula Leonard, the national lead for community of the Alcohol Forum Ireland
Unfortunately, the same attention is not paid when the alcohol industry is conducting programs for teachers that will affect school children.
Even the Education Minister Norma Foley avoided it when questioned about this issue by the Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall. Instead of taking action Minister Foley passed the responsibility to schools and teachers.
Ireland has one of the highest rates of binge [alcohol use] in the world. We should not be outsourcing alcohol education to the very people profiting from this. The conflict of interest is crystal clear. It’s time for the minister to ban this inappropriate practise,” said Róisín Shortall, co-leader of the Social Democrats, as per The Irish Examiner.Róisín Shortall, co-leader, Social Democrats
The only resource on alcohol and other drugs for senior cycle students endorsed by the Department of Health in Ireland is the Know the Score program. In addition to this, the Department of Health has informed that the Healthy Choices program for junior cycle students is expected to be available to schools in 2023.
Big Alcohol’s conflict of interest concerning CSR
Alcohol industry-funded social aspects and public relations organizations (SAPROs) or corporate social responsibility (CSR) bodies should have no place in educating teachers or children because they have a direct, fundamental conflict of interest.
The alcohol industry’s social aspects and public relations organizations (SAPROs), such as Drinkaware, are known to attempt at influencing alcohol policy making at both the national and international levels.
These SAPROs perform direct and indirect lobbying functions for the alcohol companies that fund them. Thus, they have a fundamental conflict of interest with public health-oriented alcohol policies which aim to reduce the levels of alcohol consumption to prevent and reduce alcohol harm in communities.
The front group of alcohol companies, such as Drinkaware, have been found to misrepresent evidence on alcohol’s harmful effects on pregnancy, cancer and cardiovascular health. They are clearly not trustworthy, objective, and reliable sources of public health information about the harm that the products and practices of the alcohol industry are causing.
Two of the strategies used by alcohol industry CSR bodies to mislead people on alcohol harms are “dark nudges” and “sludge” which exploit people’s cognitive biases to promote mixed messages on alcohol harms and to undermine scientific evidence about these harms.
Evidence shows how the alcohol industry uses front groups such as Drinkaware to undermine the public’s recognition of the full extent of harm due to the products and practices of the companies that fund the front groups.
Community petition to stop Big Alcohol from exploiting Irish schools
The Alcohol Forum Ireland together with the Irish Community Action on Alcohol Network (ICAAN) have launched a petition to get Drinkaware out of Irish schools. They are asserting community calls that the alcohol industry shouldn’t be teaching Irish young people on a subject that they have a direct and fundamental conflict of interest in.
The outcry of concerned people and communities across Ireland has put this issue of conflict of interest and the predatory practices of alcohol industry funded Drinkaware on the political agenda.
Cross party support for protecting Irish school kids from Big Alcohol is growing. ICAAN summarizes that the Government, the HSE, the Department of Health, the Social Democratic party, and more have all issues clear statements.