Government urged not to bow to pressure of profit-driven alcohol industry in Budget 2015

Alcohol Action Ireland, the national charity for alcohol-related issues, has urged the Government to prioritise public health over private profit in Budget 2015 and resist calls for a cut excise duty on alcohol.

“We have seen in recent years that increases in excise duty have reduced alcohol consumption and generated significant additional revenue for the Exchequer, while cuts in excise duty have had the opposite effect. Therefore, to cut excise duty makes no sense for the physical, mental or financial health of the nation,” said Suzanne Costello, CEO of Alcohol Action Ireland.

Ms Costello pointed out that in 2010, when excise duty was cut on all alcohol products, consumption increased by 6% and excise receipts for the State were reduced by €142 million, while in 2013, when there was an increase in excise duty on all alcohol products, consumption fell by 9.5% and excise receipts increased by almost €150 million.

“The calls for a cut in excise duty come as figures from Revenue indicate that, even following an excise duty increase in Budget 2014, there has been a significant increase in our alcohol consumption during the first half of 2014. Clearly as our economy continues to recover and consumer spending increases we need to be more vigilant than ever when it comes to the price of alcohol. There is a high price to pay for cheap alcohol as it leads to increased consumption and that leads to greater harm being caused for individuals, families and communities throughout Ireland.” said Ms Costello.

According to Revenue’s alcohol clearance volumes, during the first six months of 2014, compared to the first six months of 2013, spirits were down by 2.3%, but beer was up 3.7%, cider was up 8.3% and wine was up by 9.1%.

“The alcohol industry attempts to use our tourism sector as a reason for cheaper alcohol simply do not reflect the facts, as, according to the Central Statistics Office and Fáilte Ireland, visitor numbers to Ireland are increasing and there has been continued growth in the tourism industry since 2010, with this year no exception.” said Ms Costello.

“Declining pub trade is also being used as a rationale for calls to cut excise duty, but following the initial impact of the recession, it is cheap alcohol in the off-trade, particularly supermarkets, that is now the primary reason that pubs are losing customers and people’s drinking habits in Ireland are changing, with 60% of our alcohol now purchased in the off-trade. Only the introduction of minimum unit pricing will properly address the sale of heavily discounted alcohol in the off-trade.

“Minimum pricing sets a ’floor price’ beneath which alcohol cannot be sold and is based on the amount of alcohol in a product. It is a targeted measure, designed to stop strong alcohol being sold at very low prices in the off-trade, but would not affect the price of alcohol in pubs, clubs or restaurants, therefore providing a boost to the areas of the alcohol industry where the majority of people are employed.

“Minimum pricing will also have little or no impact on low-risk drinkers, as it directly targets the strong and cheap alcohol products favoured by the heaviest drinkers among us, who generally seek to get as much alcohol as they can for as little money as they can and are most at risk of alcohol-related illnesses and death. It also helps protect our young people, who generally have the least disposable income and have the highest prevalence of binge drinking,” said Ms Costello.

Ms Costello said that while the alcohol industry continues to lobby Government to cut taxes on alcohol and tries to prevent the introduction of measures, such as minimum pricing, which would save lives, it makes no direct contribution towards the huge costs its products place on Irish society, an estimated €3.7 billion.

“We are calling on the Government to introduce a social responsibility levy on the alcohol industry, as recommended in the Steering Group Report on the National Substance Misuse Strategy, which could be used to fund and promote alternatives to drinking for young people, such as sports.

“Based on the latest per capita alcohol consumption figures for Ireland, a levy set at the very minimum of just one cent per Irish standard drink would generate over €30 million annually, which is more than the alcohol industry currently spends on promoting its products through sport sponsorship. A levy on alcohol products would allow the State to bridge any potential loss of funding when the ban on alcohol sponsorship of sport – another key recommendation contained in the Steering Group Report on the National Substance Misuse Strategy – is introduced.

“A levy has been in operation in relation to gambling in Ireland since 2001 and from then until the end of 2013 the State has paid over €840 million into the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund. If it is considered appropriate to use a levy on the proceeds of gambling to support sporting organisations that otherwise would rely more heavily on State funding, why can’t the same rationale be applied to alcohol, which places such a great burden on our State and its citizens.”

Click here to read Alcohol Action Ireland’s Pre-Budget Submission 2015.

Click here for a two-page summary of the Pre-Budget Submission.