The Irish public would have to foot the bill for cheaper alcohol

The Irish public will be asked to foot the bill for lower alcohol prices if the alcohol industry campaign for lower excise duty is successful, Alcohol Action Ireland has warned.

“The alcohol industry’s concerted campaign for a cut in excise duty is seeking to focus everyone’s attention on its economic contribution while encouraging them to ignore the significant harm caused by its products to the people of Ireland,” said Suzanne Costello, CEO of Alcohol Action Ireland.

“Our Government is being asked to lower alcohol prices at a time when three people are dying every day due to alcohol; while alcohol remains a major driver of ill-health and crime, and a significant risk factor for self-harm and suicide. The objective of the alcohol industry is to maximise its profits through the sale of its products. However, the Government has a responsibility to prioritise the health of the Irish people.

“It was disappointing to see publicans use a cheap alcohol promotion to get attention last week and it was interesting to note that during the promotion of ’tax-free pints’ life-saving measures such as our drink driving laws and the smoking ban were included among the reasons for their current struggles. That publicans objected to the smoking ban and the lowering of our drink driving limit at the time of their introduction is indicative of the alcohol industry approach, which prioritises profit over health at every opportunity.

“Their claim that VAT and excise are ’unfair levies’ on the alcohol industry also rings very hollow when you consider that its contribution to the Exchequer is around half what the harm caused by its products costs the Irish taxpayer every year, an estimated €3.7 billion. The alcohol industry remains a hugely profitable one, but still falls a long way short of paying its way when you look at the cost of the many harms it causes in society and the Irish taxpayer is picking up the hefty tab that remains each year.”

Alcohol Action Ireland pointed out that a reduction in excise duty will also fail to close the gap between prices in the on-trade and the off-trade and can only serve to increase overall consumption.

“Those calling for lower excise duty are well aware that as excise duty applies across the board, not just to pubs, a cut would also allow the supermarkets to further cut their already extremely low prices. Therefore, it will do absolutely nothing to close the current price gap between the on and off trades. This would only be achieved by minimum pricing, which sets a floor price beneath which alcohol cannot be sold,” said Ms Costello.

“What lower excise duty would do is increase consumption overall and the subsequent increase in profit would come at the expense of the health and wellbeing of the Irish people. Lower prices in supermarkets would be particularly problematic, as we know that it is the very cheap, strong alcohol products in the off-trade that are favoured by two vulnerable groups – the heaviest drinkers among us, who are most at risk of alcohol-related illness and death, and young people, who generally have low levels of disposable income and high levels of binge drinking.

“Our levels of alcohol harm in Ireland are still unacceptably high, with the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland warning that liver disease rates are on course to quadruple in Ireland between 1995 and 2015, with the greatest level of increase among 15-to-34-year-olds. With Revenue figures indicating that Ireland’s alcohol consumption is beginning to rise again this year, to cut prices now, as the economy continues to recover and personal spending increases, could have disastrous consequences for the public health.”