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Sunday 24 September 2017

Booze price-cut impact to be 'marginal' - experts

'Low risk' drinkers won't feel big effect

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

THE outlawing of cheap booze is targeted at problem drinkers and will have only "marginal effect" on those who are considered "low risk", according to experts.

Low risk would amount to a small glass of wine a night for women or eight pints a week for men, who would stay within recommended drinking limits.

The expert group report on minimum drinks pricing by the University of Sheffield, commissioned by the Department of Health, has given an analysis on how the minimum price of alcohol will be eventually set by regulation, in co-operation with the Department of Finance.

The move, which could see a bottle of wine having to be sold at a minimum of €8.80 and a can of beer costing at least €2.20, if the top minimum price of 11c per alcohol gram is introduced, will have main impact on high risk drinkers and "increasing high risk drinkers."

Health Minister Leo Varadkar, who this week published the wide-ranging Heads of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, allowing for minimum alcohol pricing, said he hopes legislation will be ready by the summer and that it could be in place at the end of the year.

The report said that it is already known from the National Alcohol Diary survey that 22pc, or more than one in five, of people who consume alcohol, is considered to be developing a high-risk drink habit or already has one.

"They account for 66pc of total alcohol consumption and 61pc of all spending on alcohol," it said.

"The World Health Organisation and others have found minimum unit pricing to be an effective and proportionate policy measure to tackle the misuse of alcohol. There is strong and clear scientific evidence that an increase in alcohol prices reduces hazardous drinking and serious alcohol related problems."

Minimum unit pricing will be effective in reducing alcohol consumption, alcohol harms - including alcohol-related deaths, hospitalisations, crimes and workplace absences - and the associated costs.

This mechanism is able to target cheaper alcohol relative to its strength because the minimum price is determined by and directly proportional to the amount of pure alcohol in the drink.

Those in poverty also experience larger relative gains in health and are estimated to very marginally save money due to their reduced drinking linked to the end of cheap drink.

It said the research carried out by the University of Sheffield indicates that currently most of the alcohol that is being sold cheaply relative to its strength is sold in the off-trade such as supermarkets.

It is expected that with an appropriate minimum price, consumption and spending in the on-trade sector, such as pubs, hotels and restaurants, will not be affected.

The National Off-Licence Association has welcomed the publication of the proposed legislation.

Spokeswoman Evelyn Jones said it is an "important day for communities and small businesses all across Ireland, and particularly those involved in the retail of alcohol.

"We have long maintained that this Bill is a vital tool in addressing social health and public order issues while also encouraging a sustainable retail environment.

"The proposed introduction of a minimum unit price is a very positive step, however we remind Government that the effectiveness of the measure is entirely dependent on the introduction of an appropriate price which we believe must be 70c per unit of alcohol to have the required impact."

She said separating alcohol from other products in shops needs to be subject to enforcement.

Structural separation will provide for the clear demarcation of alcohol from other grocery products so that they are not available to under-age purchasers. "In addition, this measure will help to ensure that the purchase of alcohol is a conscious and informed decision, and not an impulse due to the strategic positioning of alcohol products in aisles and close to tills, which is in keeping with Minister's acknowledgment that alcohol is no ordinary product."

The Alcohol Federation of Ireland said it hoped that there will be the beginning of a new era of engagement, where all of the relevant parties are involved in evidence-based solutions to alcohol misuse.

Irish Independent

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