Raise tax on wine with higher alcohol: expert
Increased tax on high-alcohol wines should be considered to limit their health risk, a leading expert has urged.
Professor Joe Barry voiced concerns that high alcohol levels in some wines could be contributing to a surge in liver disease, particularly among women.
Global warming and increased wine imports from New World countries such as Australia and Chile have been posited as the reason for a worldwide rise in alcohol levels in wine in recent decades.
Hotter climates are generally associated with a higher sugar and alcohol content in wine.
Prof Barry, chair of population health medicine at Trinity College, said that he was not aware of any data on changing alcohol levels in wine sold in Ireland.
But he noted that when wine first became popular here in the 1970s, German wines with around 10pc alcohol were the most common, whereas now many wines are 13pc to 14pc.
"The more alcohol you drink, the more at risk you are of developing things like liver disease, and we know women are the preferred market for wine," he said.
"You don't have to be an alcoholic, as we've heard a case just recently of someone developing liver disease on half a bottle a day, so it's very important to make people aware of how much they're drinking and stop that creeping up," he said.
A bottle of wine with 14pc alcohol by volume would contain three more units of alcohol than a bottle with 10pc. So in one bottle, the difference would be nearly a quarter of the maximum weekly alcohol consumption limit for women.
Currently, excise duty is levied at the same rate on all wine over 5.5pc and under the 15pc threshold, at which point it is classified as fortified wine at a higher-excise rate.
Prof Barry said a gradual increase in the rate might discourage consumption of the higher strength wines. But the Irish Wine Association (IWA) said excise on wine was already the highest in Europe, with Irish consumers paying €4.86 in tax on a €9 bottle, which damaged tourism but did not tackle dangerous drinking.
"The reality is that pricing is not addressing the problem of misuse," said IWA chairman Michael Foley.
Wine industry consultant Jean Smullen said traditional "old world" wines, such as Bordeaux from France, had 13.5pc alcohol, but some wines from Australia, South Africa and Chile had a higher alcohol content of around 14pc to 15pc.
However, the industry is reducing the alcohol content in response to health concerns and consumer demand, for example, using shade canopies to reduce the sugar content of grapes. Wolf Blass and Jacob's Creek both sell low-alcohol varieties here.