Alcohol prices to be fixed depending on strength
Government insists new legislation will not affect pub prices
The Government says the legislation targets high-strength alcohol being sold cheaply and will not affect pub prices. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times
The Government has warned it will continue to hike taxes on alcohol if the courts block plans to set a minimum price.
A fixed minimum unit pricing (MUP) based on the strength of each product is among a number of measures announced by the Department of Health to get people to cut down on the amount they drink.
Health warnings and advice will be on all bottles and cans, while the advertising of alcoholic products will also be limited on television, radio, print and outdoor media and in cinemas. However, a decision to ban alcohol firms from sponsoring major sports events has been put back by 12 months.
Minister of State for Health Alex White denied the Cabinet had “fudged” the issue by appointing a group to consider the pros and cons of the controversial issue, including the value, feasibility and implications of the ban, as well as how organisations could replace lost revenue.
“Government has decided both of these concerns have to be taken equally in to account,” he said. The proposal will be examined during the drafting of new legislation, the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which includes plans to set the minimum price of alcohol.
Mr White warned if MUP is struck out by the courts, plan B is to continue hitting excise duty. “Definitely, price will continue to be a major instrument in all of this,” he said. “We prefer MUP but excise is in there as well as an option in the future.”
The exact minimum price per gram of alcohol will not be fixed until after a cross-Border study in to the economic and health affects of introducing minimum pricing — possibly in both jurisdictions at the same time.
Officials are also awaiting the result of a legal challenge against similar plans in Scotland, which could eventually go to the European Court of Justice. The price of a drink in pubs and nightclubs are not expected to be affected as the new legislation will target high-strength alcohol being sold cheaply in supermarkets and off-licences.
Some 1.5 million Irish adults are said to drink in a harmful pattern, with alcohol being a contributory factor in half of all suicides and suicide attempts and associated with 16 per cent of child abuse and neglect cases. Concerns have also been raised about more people are drinking at home or getting “tanked up” in the house before a night out missing the socialising aspect of the pub, Dr Reilly said.
“Alcohol misuse in Ireland is a serious problem with 2,000 of our hospitals beds occupied each night by people with alcohol related illness or injury,” he added. “This impacts on families and individuals at every level of society.”
Medics and alcohol awareness groups said it was encouraging to finally see Government take decisive action to tackle what is a major public health issue, but claimed not dealing with the sponsorship of sports events was a missed opportunity.
However, Alcohol Federation of Ireland, which represents alcohol manufacturers and suppliers in Ireland, urged the Government to engage with the drinks industry.
“As we have long acknowledged, the drinks sector has a role in ensuring that issues such as underage drinking and drinking to excess are challenged,” Kathryn D’Arcy, director, said. “The sector wants to work with the various stakeholders in the development and introduction of evidence-based solutions that will address alcohol misuse, in particular amongst young people.
“Engaging with us will ensure that the Government will deliver an effective set of proposals.”
The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) welcomed the Government’s move. The organisation’s president, Dr Matthew Sadlier, President of the IMO, said the setting of a minimum price for alcohol was “a critical step to tackling the scourge of alcohol misuse and abuse in Ireland. Alcohol has simply become too affordable particularly for young people and this measure will help address that.”
However, the IMO was critical of the failure to ban oalcohol sponsorship of sport; “We believe that the decision not to ban alcohol sponsorship in sport is a missed opportunity,” said Dr Sadlier.