Findings from a new study illustrate that the exceptional affordability of alcohol is a key driver in high alcohol harms in Ireland. But minimum unit pricing (MUP) is set to come into force only in 2022. This policy will specifically target the cheap alcohol that’s driving heavy use.

The annual alcohol price study, conducted by Alcohol Action Ireland, found that it costs only €7.65 for Irish men to buy a week’s worth of alcohol, according to the low-risk alcohol consumption guidelines. For women it is as low as €4.95.

The cost of a week’s worth of alcohol
The annual price study conducted by Alcohol Action Ireland found that it costs only €7.65 for Irish men to buy a weeks worth of alcohol according to the low-risk guidelines. For women it is as low as €4.95.

The price survey was conducted in the middle of July in four locations – two urban and two regional towns. It found that cheap cider continues to be the strongest and most affordable alcohol, followed by beer, wine and liquor.

The study shows that the alcohol industry utilizes a “sophisticated pricing strategy for alcohol across the Irish off-trade market”. This alcohol industry strategy makes alcohol easily affordable at all levels of sale. The off-trade sale is concentrated around a few major retail operators. Big Alcohol deploys their “cheap alcohol strategy” in major supermarkets across all parts of the country.

Ireland’s off-trade licence holders – supermarkets, convenience stores and neighbourhood shops – shared a €2.71 billion off-trade COVID market, according to Alcohol Action Ireland.

Dr. Sheila Gilheany, CEO of Alcohol Action Ireland, commented:

The unsatisfactory rate of compliance by retailers to match the regulations of the Public Health Alcohol Act, after having been afforded a two-year transition, is deeply disappointing. It demonstrates, yet again, an unwillingness of those hyper selling alcohol to respond to the spirit of public health initiatives.

A generational shift in attitude towards alcohol can be achieved in Ireland but only if those at the heart of its commerce, act in a manner that is compliant with the law.”

Sheila Gilheany, CEO, Alcohol Action Ireland

The National Drug and Alcohol Survey findings, published by the Health Research Board (HRB) in July 2021, found that the prevalence of alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the general population is 14.8%, corresponding to one in every seven – or 578,000 adults in Ireland.

Rate of alcohol use order
Almost 15% of the Irish adult population suffer from an alcohol use disorder. That means 578,000 people have an alcohol use disorder in Ireland, according to the Health Research Board.

Heavy alcohol use, alcohol disorder and addiction are fuelled by exceptional affordability from the alcohol off-trade.

MUP to tackle cheap alcohol problem in Ireland

Ireland is set to enforce their minimum unit pricing (MUP) policy in January 2022. The MUP policy aims to resolve the cheap alcohol problem. Accordingly, a floor price of 10 cents per gram of alcohol will be in effect from January 1, 2022. Communities welcome the long awaited measure, even though its introduction has been severely delayed.

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 Big Alcohol. As a measure targeting the cheapest alcohol products, MUP is designed to reduce heavy alcohol use. Evidently, the alcohol industry has a conflict of interest with this public health goal.

Big Alcohol’s lobby 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 in July 2020.

Furthermore, Scotland’s MUP policy success shows, bordering jurisdictions without MUP do not affect the effectiveness of the measure. While Scotland borders England which does not have a floor price for alcohol, the policy has worked beyond expectations in Scotland.  Statistics from the National Records for Scotland have reported a 10.2% decrease in alcohol-specific deaths in 2019.

Public Health (Alcohol) Act of Ireland

The MUP policy is section 11 of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act of Ireland. The 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. 

Source Website: Irish Times