Ireland cannot afford the price of cheap alcohol in the off-trade

Alcohol Action Ireland, the national charity for alcohol-related issues, has said that calls for a reduction in excise duty on alcohol serve only vested interests, not the public health.

“Despite the current claims by alcohol industry bodies, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan last week confirmed that the excise duty on beer, cider and spirits, as a percentage of the price in the on-trade, are still lower now than they were in 2003,” said Suzanne Costello, CEO of Alcohol Action Ireland.

“What is really doing the damage to pubs in Ireland and, more importantly, contributing greatly to our serious societal problems with alcohol, is the extremely low price of alcohol products in the off-trade, particularly supermarkets, where 60% of the alcohol in Ireland is now purchased.

“Tackling pricing, including increasing excise duty, is one of the most effective ways a Government can reduce alcohol consumption and, simply put, if the price of alcohol goes up, alcohol-related harm – and the huge financial burden it places on the State – goes down. We have seen in the recent past that increases in excise duty have led directly to a reduction in alcohol consumption in Ireland, while when excise duty has been cut, as it was in 2010, our alcohol consumption has increased,” said Ms Costello.

“However, even with excise duty increases, large multiple retailers can still sell deeply discounted alcohol as a draw to attract customers, absorbing the excise duty increases and off-setting it by increasing the prices of other goods. Once the retailer pays the tax owed to the Government, they are under no obligation to pass this on to consumers, so alcohol can still be sold as a loss-leader.

“Minimum pricing, a key measure in the proposed Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, would set a ’floor price’ beneath which alcohol cannot be sold and help to level the playing field somewhat for publicans and those in the wider hospitality sector. Minimum pricing, which is to be introduced in conjunction with Northern Ireland, has the potential to save lives and improve health, safety and wellbeing for all those living in Ireland, while also having a positive economic impact,” said Ms Costello.

“While excise duty affects all alcohol products and outlets – and therefore all consumers – minimum pricing directly targets the cheapest and strongest alcohol products in the off-trade, primarily supermarkets, but would not have any affect the price of alcohol products in pubs, clubs or restaurants. It would effectively target those drinkers choosing the cheapest and strongest alcohol products, who would benefit most from a reduction in their consumption, while having little or no effect on low-risk drinkers.”