Thursday 19 September 2019

Eilish O'Regan: 'Government needs to crack down on drink prices that put health of young people at risk'


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Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

The full effect of minimum unit pricing - a set cost below which alcohol cannot be sold, aimed at making alcoholic drinks less cheap - has yet to be proved.

But early indications from Scotland, the first country in the world to introduce minimum unit pricing in 2018, are encouraging.

Figures show the annual volume of "pure alcohol" in drinks sold in Scotland was 9.9 litres per adult in 2018, down about 3pc from 10.2 litres in 2017.

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Minimum pricing was largely aimed at raising the cost of cheap lager, cider and spirits sold in supermarkets and off-licences to reduce consumption.

Heavy drinkers are more inclined to buy the cheapest alcohol.

The Public Health Alcohol Act 2018 allows the Government here to bring in minimum pricing.

It's on the statute book but it hasn't been triggered yet.

Various factors have delayed its roll-out, including the price difference in alcohol between the Republic and the North which would result.

The strong drinks lobby warned it would lead to 'booze cruises' to the North for cheaper alcohol, hence the plan to introduce it simultaneously in both jurisdictions.

The political stalemate in the North has exacerbated the delay.

Despite recent statements by Health Minister Simon Harris that it will be introduced as soon as possible, there is still no timetable. Brexit and its potential negative impact on the economy here might cause another delay.

Alcohol Action Ireland (AAI) said its annual survey shows how cheap alcohol is, allowing a man to buy his safe limit for a little as €7.48 a week while a woman needs to spend only €4.84 for her equivalent.

AAI warned there is an urgent need to end the political inertia which has left the measure - passed into law last October - in limbo.

It said it is "incredible that economic interest would continue to be advanced ahead of a public health measure that would benefit the well-being of our youth and those at high risk because of alcohol".

Findings also highlight the "sophisticated retailing model" deployed nationwide by the alcohol industry and its retail partners, that maximises the yields from alcohol sales to all retail outlets. It is often as cheap to buy cider in a convenience store in a village in Kilkenny as a supermarket in Dublin.

Irish Independent

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