New Irish study shows minimum unit pricing for alcohol will affect 14% of drinkers

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Research shows that the cheapest alcohol products were favoured by the heaviest drinkers, irrespective of income levels

From the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland

Research led by RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) and the Health Research Board has examined the relationship between high-risk drinking, personal income, place of purchase and price paid for alcohol. This is first Irish study to investigate the potential impact of minimum unit pricing for alcohol at a population level. It was conducted using a national sample of 3,187 Irish adults aged 18-75 years who reported drinking alcohol in the week prior to interview in 2013.

Key findings included:

  • One in seven (14%) Irish adults, who currently drink alcohol, purchases alcohol at less than €1 per standard drink which is below the minimum unit price.
  • Almost two-thirds of respondents reported high-risk drinking with men being more likely to report high-risk drinking relative to women.
  • The majority (69%) of low-cost alcohol, that is alcohol purchased below €1 per standard drink, was purchased in supermarkets.
  • The cheapest alcohol products were favoured by the heaviest drinkers, irrespective of income with approximately 45% of the heaviest drinkers with both high and low incomes purchasing cheap alcohol

Speaking on these findings, lead researcher Dr Gráinne Cousins, RCSI said “The primary objective of the introduction of a minimum unit price for alcohol is to reduce alcohol-attributable harm.”

“Some opponents of minimum unit pricing are concerned that consumers using alcohol in a low risk manner will be punished with higher prices. Our findings do not support these concerns, as unlike tax or excise measures, the introduction of a minimum unit price would affect less than 14% of the population. More importantly, from a population health perspective, we have shown that a minimum unit price of €1 per standard drink will primarily target high-risk drinkers.”

“We know that people on lower incomes in Ireland suffer a disproportionate burden of alcohol-related harm. Our findings indicate that the health benefits of introducing a minimum unit price in Ireland will also be greatest among those on lower incomes, in terms of reductions in alcohol consumption and harm.”

“Our study also suggests that men will experience greater health benefits from the introduction of a minimum unit price, which again supports this policy as a targeted strategy, as men are disproportionately affected by alcohol-attributable harms.”

“High-risk drinkers; men and those on low income were most likely to report buying the cheapest alcohol. As a result the introduction of minimum unit pricing in Ireland is likely to target those suffering the greatest harm, and reduce alcohol-attributable mortality in Ireland,” concluded Dr Cousins.

In 2013, three deaths per day were alcohol-related. Alcohol-related harm costs the Irish State an estimated €1.5 billion on alcohol related hospital discharges based on 2012 figures. That equates to €1 for every €10 spent in public health in 2012. This excludes the cost of emergency care, general practice, psychiatric care and alcohol treatment services. Furthermore, the rate of alcohol-related liver disease has trebled between 1995 and 2013.

The study, Potential impact of minimum unit pricing for alcohol in Ireland: Evidence from the National Alcohol Diary Study, was recently published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism, and was funded by the Department of Health.

RCSI is ranked in the top 250 institutions worldwide and joint 1st place in the Republic of Ireland in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (2016-2017). It is an international not-for-profit health sciences institution, with its headquarters in Dublin, focused on education and research to drive improvements in human health worldwide.

The Health Research Board (HRB) is the lead agency in Ireland responsible for supporting and funding health research, information and evidence. They are motivated and inspired by their vision; Healthy people through excellent research and applied knowledge