Two out of three Irish adults back minimum pricing for alcohol, survey reveals

Alcohol Action Ireland, the national charity for alcohol-related issues, today revealed that two out of three Irish adults back a minimum price for alcohol, a floor price below which alcohol cannot be sold, while almost half of people said they would buy less alcohol if the price were to increase by just 10%.

The findings come from a nationally representative survey carried out by leading Irish market research firm Behaviour & Attitudes among people aged 16 years to 65 plus to gauge Irish people’s attitudes to drinking, the price of alcohol and how alcohol is sold and promoted. The survey also included specific questions for 16 to 21-year-olds about their experiences of alcohol marketing.

Charity Director Fiona Ryan said: “What these results show is public support for a minimum price below which alcohol cannot be sold. Cheap alcohol carries a high cost and we’re already paying for it. Alcohol-related harm costs this country around €3.7billion a year including health, absenteeism and crime-related costs – that means €3,318 for everyone paying income tax.

“The World Health Organisation in its global strategy to reduce alcohol related harm has listed price as one of the most effective mechanisms to reduce overall levels of alcohol-related harm across the population. Put simply, price influences consumption and consumption levels are directly linked to alcohol-related harm. Increased consumption leads to increased harm. Price and consumption levels are inextricably linked – almost 50% of people surveyed said they would buy less alcohol if the price increased by just 10%.

“One of the myths about alcohol in this country is that it is expensive. In Ireland, it is possible to get drunk for as little as €6 – with cans of beer selling for 66c each or less, wine for €4 and bottles of vodka retailing at €12. It’s possible for a woman to reach her low risk drinking limit for just €6.30 a week and a man can do so for less than €10.

“Alcohol-related harm impacts across all ages but young people are at particular risk:   according to the ESPAD survey, two out of five 15 and 16-year-olds reported regularly binge drinking. Meanwhile, the Office of Tobacco control estimated that Irish 16 to 17-year-olds spent €145 million on alcohol in 2007 – €145 million buys a lot of cheap alcohol at pocket money prices.”

Key findings from the survey include:

  • 85% of those surveyed say that the current level of alcohol consumption in Ireland is a problem, while 69% say the Government is not doing enough to address the country’s alcohol problem
  • 65% believe there should be a minimum price on alcohol, below which alcohol cannot be sold
  • One in four say the drop in the price of alcohol in supermarkets has influenced them to buy more alcohol
  • 67% say alcohol should not be positioned beside or behind the till in convenience stores
  • 81% of those surveyed supported a ban on all alcohol advertising on TV and radio until after 9pm
  • Half of Irish adults supported a ban on alcohol companies sponsoring sports teams or events

The findings were presented as part of Alcohol Action Ireland’s Have We Bottled It? Alcohol Marketing and Young People conference which was held today (15th September) in the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland and launched by the Chief Medical Officer of Ireland, Dr. Tony Holohan.

Ms Ryan said: “Alcohol is one of the most heavily marketed products on our shelves. The alcohol market in Ireland is worth over €6 billion this year. Research has established that alcohol marketing increases the likelihood of young people starting drinking and those already drinking, to drink more. Our survey found that among 16 to 21-year-olds, alcohol ads represented five out of their top ten favourite ads while one in three 16 to 17-year-olds said they had seen an ad or pop-up for an alcohol product on their social networking page.”

Ms Ryan said that while survey results suggest awareness of certain types of alcohol marketing, they also suggest that other types have become normalised.

“Five out of the top ten favourite ads in this age group are alcohol ads suggesting a high recall among young people for alcohol ads. It suggests they are aware of only some forms of alcohol marketing but not others. The reality is young people are being marketed to without even knowing it, for example, through sponsorship or alcohol branded merchandise.

“In our survey, two out of five 16 to 21-year-olds have alcohol branded clothing and one in four has a sports jersey with an alcohol logo on it. When asked where they saw alcohol marketing, however, only 1% said t-shirts or jerseys – yet every time a young person looks in the mirror at themselves wearing this clothing or at their friends – they are effectively being advertised to and acting as an advertiser.

“No one is saying that putting on a sports jersey with an alcohol logo by itself will make a young person drink but alcohol marketing is designed to have a reinforcing effect across different channels and what it does do is contribute to the normalization of alcohol in a young person’s life, making its use more acceptable. We know from international research that exposure to alcohol marketing increases the likelihood of young people starting to drink and of those who are drinking, drinking more.”

Ms Ryan said the current Voluntary Codes of Practice on Alcohol Marketing are supposed to reduce the exposure of young people to alcohol marketing including advertising: “This level of normalization is deeply worrying. At this stage we have to ask are these Codes achieving their own stated goal of reducing young people’s exposure to alcohol marketing or are they even capable of doing so?”

Speakers at the conference included: international expert on alcohol marketing Prof Gerard Hastings, head of Alcohol Focus Scotland and minimum price campaigner Dr Evelyn Gillan, child and adolescent consultant psychiatrist Dr. Bobby Smyth, Head of the Department of Public Health and Primary Care in Trinity College Dr. Joe Barry, DIT lecturer on marketing Pat Kenny, assistant director of the National Youth Council of Ireland James Doorley and co-ordinator of the Ballymun Local Drugs Taskforce Hugh Greaves.

Note to Editor:

The Alcohol Action Ireland / Behaviour & Attitudes research was a nationally representative survey of the population, aged 16 years-of-age and over. Some of the questions relating to purchasing and consumption of alcohol were asked only of 18 plus.

What is minimum pricing and how does it work?
Minimum pricing is the lowest price at which an alcohol product can be sold, the cost of a product based on the number of units it contains. To put it simply, the more units of alcohol in a bottle, the higher the price.   As such, minimum pricing affects people directly in relation to how much they drink. This means that minimum pricing will primarily affect heavy drinkers (i.e., those that drink most), as well as children and young people who are more likely to consume low-cost alcohol. Minimum pricing has little impact on those who drink within low risk weekly limits, i.e., moderate drinkers, as, by definition, they drink less and they tend not to buy the cheapest products.

How does it work?
Minimum pricing targets the sale of alcohol at pocket money prices by fixing a minimum price per unit at which alcohol can be sold. A different minimum price per unit can be set for alcohol sold in the on and off trades.
Minimum pricing brings up the price of the cheapest drink, while having little or no impact on the price of many other drinks.

But isn’t Ireland one of the most expensive countries in the EU for alcohol?
This is probably one of the greatest myths about alcohol in Ireland.
The RAND report commissioned by the DG SANCO (European Commission’s Department of Health) for the European Alcohol and Health Forum found that Ireland was one six countries in the EU where alcohol has become over 50% more affordable than it was in 1996. Furthermore, alcohol prices in Ireland are falling at a much faster rate than average prices. According to CSO figures, alcohol prices fell by 4.6 % in Ireland between July 2009 and July 2010, while average prices fell by only 0.1%.

For further information or comment contact:
Alcohol Action Ireland Communications Officer Cathy Gray (01) 878 0610/ 087 995 0186