In Ireland our unhealthy use of alcohol is taking a heavy toll on our society, which impacts greatly on healthcare services and demands significant levels of public expenditure.
Alcohol-related harm is most common among those with problematic drinking patterns. Those whose drinking is indicative of Alcohol Use Disorder are thirteen times more likely than low-risk drinkers to experience any of the following harms – health issues, being involved in an accident or in a fight, experiencing role impairment, or negative impacts on their home life.
However, despite this, it is still possible for a man to reach his low risk weekly drinking limit for just €7.65, while a woman can reach her low risk weekly drinking limit (17 Standard Drinks for men; 11 for women) for just €4.95.
The CSO states that average annual hourly earnings of all employees in 2020 was €25.02 (CSO, June 2021) while the national minimum wage, for an experienced adult employee, is €10.20 per hour (1 Jan 2021).
The commencement of minimum unit pricing as a public health measure from January 4th, 2022, will make a significant contribution to the public policy objective of reducing alcohol harm in Ireland and lowering alcohol use to a 2013 target of 9.1 litres per capita.
Minimum unit pricing (MUP) is a particularly important measure for reducing alcohol harm as, by setting a ’floor price’ beneath which alcohol cannot legally be sold, it is designed to stop the sale of strong alcohol products at very low prices in across the retail sector: supermarkets, convenience stores and neighbourhood shops.
The retail sector’s, supported by the alcohol producers, hyper-discounting of alcohol products ensures that prior to the introduction of MUP, the Irish consumer can spend as little as:
0.45c for a Standard Drink of Cider
0.46c for a Standard Drink of Beer
0.56c for a Standard Drink of Wine
0.68c for a Standard Drink of Gin
0.63c for a Standard Drink of Vodka
0.68c for a Standard Drink of Whiskey
(Alcohol Action Ireland price survey 2021)
with the introduction of MUP in Ireland, a Standard Drink (10gms alcohol) cannot be sold for less than €1.
MUP will have no impact on the price of a pint, or any alcohol sold in pubs, clubs or restaurants and will have little or no impact on those who drink in a low-risk manner. Equally, given that the rate per gram of alcohol was set in 2013, sustaining its efficacy in the face of growing inflation is vital.
MUP can save lives precisely because it targets only the strongest and cheapest drinks, which are the alcohol products favoured by two groups most vulnerable to alcohol-related harm – the very heaviest drinkers among us, who generally seek to get as much alcohol as they can for as little money as possible, and our young people, who generally have the least disposable income but the highest prevalence of binge drinking.
Minimum pricing for alcohol products, as an initiative for better public health, is operational in Scotland, Wales, Jersey, Provinces of Canada, the Northern Territory (Australia), Russia, Armenia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan.
The WHO in its recommended policy actions on alcohol pricing outlines that evidence to support the effectiveness of MUP is robust. Unlike increasing taxation, which affects the price of all products, MUP increases the price of only the cheapest alcohol; “MUP is likely to be a highly effective measure for reducing alcohol consumption, alcohol-related hospital admissions, deaths, criminal offences and workplace absence.”
A brief explanation from Colin Angus, University of Sheffield.
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