The minimum unit pricing (MUP) policy – a core measure of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act – has come into effect on January 4, 2022.
The new MUP measure sets the price for a standard drink of alcohol – which is 10 grams in Ireland – at a minimum of €1. This means:
- A standard bottle of wine cannot be sold for less than €7.40,
- A standard can of beer cannot be sold for less than €1.70,
- Liquor, such as gin or vodka with 40% alcohol content cannot be sold for less than €20.70, and
- A 700 ml bottle of whiskey cannot be sold for less than €22.
MUP specifically targets the ultra cheap alcohol and the vast societal harm linked to it. Cheap alcohol sold in the off-trade, such as in supermarkets and retail outlets, disproportionately harms the most vulnerable people with lower socio-economic status and higher alcohol consumption. The measure will put a stop to the alcohol industry’s hyper discounting which has exacerbated health harms for Irish people.
Today’s introduction is a really positive move by government to address persistent alcohol related harms,” said Prof. Frank Murray, Chair, Alcohol Action Ireland, as per their website.
With almost two-thirds of all alcohol use emanating from off-trade retail sales, the availability of such volumes of cheap [alcohol] in every community in Ireland has to tackled, if we hope to address the chronic level of alcohol related harm that demands so much of our health services. I have no doubt that in addressing the exceptional affordability of this alcohol, MUP will have proved to have saved many lives.”
Prof. Frank Murray, Chair, Alcohol Action Ireland
In countries which implemented MUP, the policy has proven to be highly effective. For example, Scotland, the first jurisdiction to implement MUP, recorded a 10% reduction in alcohol-specific deaths in 2019, just one year after MUP introduction.
Another study found that the MUP policy resulted in a 7.7% decrease in household alcohol purchases in Scotland and a 8.6% reduction of the same in Wales.
MUP to solve cheap alcohol problem in Ireland
Super cheap alcohol products have long become a menace for the health, economy and development of Irish society. 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 easy affordability of alcohol in Ireland is a major reason for the high burden of alcohol.
As the Irish Times reports, over two thirds of alcohol products are now consumed at home. This concerning shift in alcohol use is driven by the cheap alcohol products sold in the off-trade. Currently, Ireland loses three lives everyday due to the harms caused by the cheap products of the alcohol industry.
Modelling of the Irish MUP suggests that across the heaviest/ high risk alcohol users there can be a 15.1% reduction of alcohol use. Meanwhile across the whole-of-population a 8.8% reduction is intended by establishing the floor price at 0.10c per gram.
Cheap alcohol products and the harm they cause are also an economic burden for Ireland.
An OECD report on preventing alcohol harm found that the macroeconomic burden of alcohol is lowering Ireland’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 1.88% annually.
Furthermore, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform estimates the societal costs of alcohol, across healthcare, criminal justice and social protection measures, could be as high as €3.7 billion annually.
The projected modelling carried out by the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group in 2013 estimated that MUP would have the following benefits to Irish communities:
- Reduce alcohol-attributable deaths by approximately 197 per year after 20 years.
- The full effects of MUP will be seen on the long-term due to the time it takes for serious alcohol-related illneses to manifest.
- 5,878 fewer hospital admissions per year.
- Reduction in alcohol-fuelled crime and workplace absences.
- The total societal value of these reductions in health, crime and work place harms is estimated at €1.7 billion.
The implementation of the Public Health Alcohol Act in full, will be viewed as the turning point in our national efforts to finally address the wound to society from alcohol harms,” said Dr Sheila Gilheany, CEO, Alcohol Action as per their website.
In recent times, after some measures tackling the promotion and availability of alcohol have been implemented, we are beginning to see tentative signs of a better understanding of alcohol related harm, and a reduction in use. MUP will add to that movement and will make a further contribution to what we hope is a better, low-risk engagement with alcohol.”
Dr Sheila Gilheany, CEO, Alcohol Action
MUP should be an all island issue
One of the reasons that the Republic of Ireland delayed implementing their MUP policy was that they were waiting for their Northern counterparts to implement the policy at the same time. This was to prevent cross-border alcohol trade issues between the North and the South on the island.
However, plans to introduce MUP have again been delayed in the North. Northern Ireland’s Minister of Health had informed that they would not be bringing in MUP till at least after their elections in May 2022.
Tommy Canning, who runs the Northlands Centre, an alcohol addiction treatment centre in Londonderry called on the Northern Ireland Executive to “look seriously” at introducing similar legislation in Northern Ireland, according to the BBC.
The presence of neighboring jurisdictions without MUP does not necessarily mean it will diminish the effects of the policy at the population level. For example, Scotland borders England which does not have an alcohol floor price policy, but the Scottish MUP policy has already proven effective.
Next step: Adjusting the MUP to inflation
Ireland’s alcohol floor price rate was set in October 2013 and in the meantime, inflation has eroded this rate by about 6.3%. Furthermore, in the same timeframe, there has also been no Consumer Price Index adjustment, or any rate increase, to alcohol excise duties. Therefore, for the best efficacy of MUP, adjusting it to current inflation rate would be the next step for the Irish government.
Public Health (Alcohol) Act of Ireland
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.
RTE: “Minimum unit pricing for alcohol to come into effect from Tuesday“
The Irish Times: “Alcohol price controls will boost health, help hospitals and save lives“
BBC News: “Republic of Ireland’s plan for alcohol minimum pricing comes into effect“
The New York Times: “Ireland Puts Minimum Price on Alcohol to Curb Binge Drinking“
Alcohol Action Ireland: “Introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing for Alcohol Products Is a Historical Development in Public Health Alcohol Policy That Will Save Lives“