Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Pint for a Pint in Ireland

By Emily Bowman

Copy edited and produced by Laura Straub

When one hears the phrase “a pint for a pint,” many Americans would most likely think of taking turns to buy rounds of beer at the bars.

In Ireland, however, this used to mean donating a pint of blood in exchange for, if the donator chooses, a free pint of Guinness.

A Pint for a Pint was a well known incentive program used by the Irish Blood Transfusion Service. Donators could also choose to receive free biscuits, crackers, and other food items.

The program lasted more than 30 years, but was discontinued in November 2009. Mirenda O’Donovan, the head of Corporate Affairs for IBTS, said the Guinness distributor, Diageo, announced they would no longer promote alcohol as a medicine, nor imply that alcohol had the ability to prevent, treat or cure any human disease or condition.

Diageo was not available for comment.

Changes in Policy
Donor in the process of giving blood
“Following this decision, the IBTS decided not to purchase Guinness for two reasons. First because this would be a cost that is not justifiable and secondly because the blood alcohol limits were about to be reduced further by the government in 2010,” O’Donovan said.

Despite the program’s discontinuation, IBTS has not seen any drop in blood donations.

We are still at a very steady donation rate, O’Donovan said.

Tessa Mcintyre, an Irish blood donor, said donating blood is often times encouraged by families and a lot of people donate just because their parents do.

“(Donating blood) is high in everybody’s agenda. Over here we’re such a small country that every pint counts,” Mcintyre said, adding that in small, walking towns many nearby bars still offer free pints for blood donors.

“Over here they really influence you to (donate blood) and really try to make you want to do it,” she added.

The Irish beer, known for its slogan “Guinness is good for you,” became one of the exchange options because of its supposed high iron levels that could be beneficial after donating blood.

Frank Mcintyre, a firefighter from Ireland, said Guinness has been traditionally thought of as a healthy beer and many people still hold this belief.

Guinness Advertisment, courtsey of 
“(I have been told) to have a bottle of Guinness a day,” Mcintyre said. “My grandfather kept a bottle of it by his bed in the hospital.”

Mcintyre added that even pregnant women would go out and get bottles of Guinness.

In America, blood organizations also work hard to find incentives to entice citizens to donate blood.

Incentives in America
Attie Poirier, the Media Relations Specialist at the American Red Cross, said there are about 4 million Red Cross volunteer donors in the US each year.

“Incentives are determined on a division by division basis,” Poirier said.

The Red Cross consistently offers various food items to its donors. It has also offered chances to win gift cards, cash and other prizes, according to The Times-Tribune.

Justin Falck, a blood donor from Cincinnati, said receiving a free beer would be a nice touch but is not necessary.

“I’ve gotten paid for giving blood in the past as well as doing it for free. I don’t need any incentive to give blood because I know it is for a good cause,” Falck said, adding that free beer would be a better incentive for college students in a small town.

Deena Benkey, a blood donor from Sandusky, said she does not think beer needs to be offered as an incentive at all.

“Donating blood saves lives and is a great thing to do. (You should only donate) for others and yourself, not for anything free,” Benkey said.

Continuing Donations in Ireland
Though the pint for a pint program brought many people in Ireland to donate blood, Dr. Ellen McSweeney of the Irish Blood Transfusion Center said it did not bring any more people than would have donated in the first place.

“I don’t believe it was an incentive to donate, more a gesture of appreciate,” McSweeney said, adding that few people expressed dissatisfaction for canceling the program.

This is the case for David Ganly, a teacher and blood donor from Dublin.

“It doesn’t really make a difference to me. I’ve donated blood and not gotten a pint of Guinness.” Ganly said, adding that he has grown up in a different era and believes receiving Guinness was more popular years ago.

Along with money and health concerns, the pint for a pint tradition was also canceled when the Irish government lowered the blood alcohol content level for the country.

“Ten years ago it was pretty normal to go out and have a few pints, get in your car and drive home,” Ganly said, adding how the government has been cracking down on driving under the influence.

“(They) can’t really be promoting something like a pint of beer,” Ganly said.

The IBTS still uses many advertising tactics to entice people to donate blood, such as emails, TV and newspaper ads. They also try to advertise more during the holiday season.

“In the last six weeks I’ve noticed (organizations) advertising a lot,” Gantly said.

Even though the Guinness tradition was brought to an end, Mcintyre said he did not see a problem with the free treat.

“My opinion might be somewhat biased but I like my beer,” he said.

Despite blood organizations no longer offering free Guinness, McSweeney said blood donations have remained steady and are not expected to drop anytime soon.

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