Tackling alcohol abuse – minimum pricing

  • Post category:News

A letter to The Irish Times from Professor Frank Murray of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland’s Alcohol Policy Group.

Sir, – Dan O’Brien’s article (Business Opinion, August 23rd) on minimum unit pricing of alcohol ignores the fact that minimum unit pricing strategy targets problem drinkers and adolescents/young adults. These two groups are more likely to drink cheap alcohol. Furthermore, hazardous alcohol consumption among young people is strongly related to disposable income. International scientific research and opinion strongly supports price alterations as a powerful instrument to reduce alcohol health harm.

Minimum pricing would have little or no impact on the vast majority of alcohol consumers in Ireland who drink alcohol in moderation. It would not change the price of a drink in bars and restaurants. It would affect the price paid by the consumer in retail outlets where very cheap alcohol is sold, for example in supermarkets and off-licences.

Any discussion on revenue needs to also take into account the high cost of alcohol harm. The total cost of alcohol harm in Ireland in 2007 was estimated at €3.7 billion. This includes health system costs, crime costs related to alcohol, costs of road traffic accidents and loss of economic output due to absenteeism. Minimum pricing is one of a number of measures which could be introduced to tackle this problem. Price increases have been successful in other jurisdictions. For example, in British Columbia, Canada, an immediate reduction in alcohol-related deaths was noted after price increases came into effect.

As a practising gastroenterologist, I see firsthand the harmful effects of the consumption of cheap alcohol. My colleagues and I increasingly see patients who drink heavily at home after purchasing at a supermarket or off-licence. There is no single solution to the problem of abusive alcohol consumption. However, increasing cost is one important, practical measure to reduce alcohol intake and alcohol health harm. – Yours, etc,


Chair, Royal College of

Physicians of Ireland Alcohol

Policy Group,

South Frederick Street,

Dublin 2.