At 11 liters per capita alcohol consumption, Ireland is one of the heaviest alcohol using countries in the world. This is driven by the products and practices of the alcohol industry in Ireland. Ultra cheap alcohol products especially in supermarkets continue to drive heavy alcohol consumption. As a proven remedy, the Public Health (Alcohol) Act of 2018 includes the MUP policy as a targeted measure to eliminate ultra cheap alcohol and protect the most vulnerable alcohol users.
However, the Irish government has been postponing the implementation of the alcohol floor price numerous times. One reason was that they planned to simultaneously implement MUP with Northern Ireland. However, reportedly the North will not implement MUP until mid 2022. Therefore, the Irish government decided not to wait any longer for their Northern neighbors. The cabinet instead made the decision to implement the alcohol minimum unit pricing by January 1, 2022.
Minister of State at the Department of Health, Frank Feighan, explained the importance of implementing the MUP measure to protect vulnerable people, especially children and youth, from ultra cheap alcohol at “pocket money” prices.
The time for action to begin to address this problem is now,” said Frank Feighan, Minister of State at the Department of Health, Ireland as per The Irish Times.Frank Feighan, Minister of State at the Department of Health
When the MUP measure comes into effect, the cheapest 750ml bottle of wine would cost €7.40 (12.5% ABV) whereas currently it is sold for less than €5. Wine with higher alcohol content would cost at least €7.75. The price of a 700ml bottle of supermarket gin or vodka would rise to €20.71 from the current €13 and €14.
The MUP measure will not affect on-premise sale of alcohol since alcoholic beverages sold in restaurants and pubs are already over MUP limits.
Alcohol industry opposes MUP
The alcohol industry has been in aggressive opposition to the alcohol floor price and the goal to eliminate ultra cheap alcohol. Research shows that heavy alcohol use brings in the bulk of profits for the alcohol industry. As a measure targeting cheap alcohol, MUP aims to reduce heavy alcohol use. Evidently, the alcohol industry has a conflict of interest with this public health goal.
Meanwhile, cheap alcohol products released by the alcohol industry such as the Four Loko brand recently introduced in Ireland specifically target teens and youth. The 440ml 8.5% ABV vodka based cans retail at €5. The branding from the design to the theme and social media marketing of the brand targets younger people by making a carcinogenic product look like candy.
The alcohol industry front group Retail Ireland (IBEC) was leading the opposition to MUP. Their main argument was that higher prices for alcohol in Ireland will increase cross-border trade of alcohol. But as Alcohol Action Ireland explains, even with MUP the cheapest available alcohol product in Ireland will still be cheaper than those products in Northern Ireland, as demonstrated in the Department of Finance Tax Strategy Group presentation (July 2020).
Furthermore, Scotland’s MUP success shows bordering jurisdictions without MUP do not affect the effectiveness of the measure. Scotland borders England which does not have an alcohol floor price policy. Results from Scotland show that MUP is working effectively to eliminate ultra cheap alcohol products. Statistics from the National Records for Scotland have reported a 10.2% decrease in alcohol-specific deaths in 2019.
The costs of the harm caused by the products and practices of the alcohol industry on Irish people are massive and dwarf the revenue gained from the alcohol trade. Currently, alcohol’s toll on the Irish healthcare system is at €1.8 billion. The wider societal cost of alcohol from health, criminal justice, education and social protection is at €3.6 billion. Out of this, alcohol-related absenteeism from the workplace is costing Irish employers €46 million. The cross border trade of alcohol dwarves against these numbers.
Not to forget the lives lost – three people every day – to alcohol, which can not be valued at any cost.
The greater public good far outweighs the continued protection of private commercial interest,” wrote Alcohol Action Ireland in a media release in April, 2021.Alcohol Action Ireland
The way forward
Communities and civil society have welcomed the implementation of the long awaited MUP in Ireland.
It is unfortunate it’s [MUP] taken so long. It would have been far preferable to have got this in a lot sooner but it’s great that it’s happening at long last,” said Dr. James Reilly, former minister of health who supported MUP legislation at the time of its proposing between 2011 and 2016, as per The Irish Times.Dr. James Reilly, former minister of health
The Royal College of Physicians has also welcomed the measure. Alcohol Action Ireland underlined the importance of MUP in achieving targeted reduction in alcohol harm in Ireland. The group added the need to implement the other measures of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act of 2018 including labelling and better regulating the content of advertisements.
The Public Health (Alcohol) Act was adopted into law in 2018. The government has taken a stage-wise approach and is making steady progress in implementing the different provisions of the Act.
- In 2019 several improvements regarding alcohol marketing rules stipulated by the Act came into force, including bans on advertising in public transport, 200 meters from a school, creche, or local authority playground, in cinemas except for films which are classified as over 18 and on children’s clothing.
- In November 2020, section 22 of the Act came into force which saw separation of alcohol in specified licensed premises. The introduction of this regulation is part of a process to de-normalize alcohol as an ordinary grocery product.
- Recently, in January 11, 2021 section 23 of the Act came into force. This saw implementation of measures to de-normalize alcohol in Irish society by banning multi-buy deals, short-term price promotions and loyalty points for alcohol products.
The Irish Times: “Minimum pricing for alcohol to be enforced from January 2022“
RTE: “Cabinet signs off on plans to introduce minimum unit price for alcohol“
Irish Examiner: “Health campaigners welcome move on minimum pricing of alcohol“
Alcohol Action Ireland: “MUP – THE GREATER PUBLIC GOOD FAR OUTWEIGHS CONTINUED PROTECTION OF PRIVATE COMMERCIAL INTEREST“
Extra.ie: “Renowned US alcohol brand Four Loko launches in Ireland“