Ireland must ‘turn off the tap’ of cheap alcohol

Health organisations make pre-budget submissions to Finance Commitee

President designate of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland Prof Frank Murray called for Government to significantly increase minimum alcohol prices “as a matter of the highest priority”, something he said would have “immediate and substantial” benefits.  Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

President designate of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland Prof Frank Murray called for Government to significantly increase minimum alcohol prices “as a matter of the highest priority”, something he said would have “immediate and substantial” benefits. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Fri, Jul 18, 2014, 01:00

Ireland needs to “turn off the tap of cheap alcohol to some of the most vulnerable individuals” in society, the Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform has heard.

President designate of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland Prof Frank Murray called for Government to significantly increase minimum alcohol prices “as a matter of the highest priority”, something he said would have “immediate and substantial” benefits.

He said minimum unit pricing as proposed under the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, would have an immediate reduction in alcohol sales and an immediate reduction in hospital admissions.

Pointing to two regions in Canada where minimum unit pricing has been introduced, Prof Murray said a 10 per cent price increase had led to a reduction in consumption of 8 per cent and to a 32 per cent decrease in alcohol-related deaths within one year.

“Alcohol is no ordinary product...there is nothing else you get walking up and down the aisle of a supermarket that is more dangerous than alcohol,” Prof Murray said, adding that there was also a “big problem” around the availability of alcohol in supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol stations.

He also deemed it “ridiculous” that retailers who are selling alcohol as loss leaders were then able to reclaim back the VAT on those sales.

The organisation also called on sugary drinks to be taxed to address Ireland’s “obesity epidemic”. Prof Murray said direct health care costs alone could reach an estimated €5.4 billion annually by 2030 if obesity trends continue.

Echoing this Cliona Loughnane of the Irish Heart Foundation called for a tax that would increase the cost of sugary drinks by 20 per cent.

The organisation called for the resulting revenue to be used to provide a fruit and vegetable subsidy and the establishment of a children’s future health fund.

Meanwhile Kathleen O’Meara of the Irish Cancer Society called for the specific tax rate on cigarettes to be raised to 76.5 per cent, the highest rate allowable under EU law. “This would have the effect of squeezing tobacco manufacturers and increasing the duty received by the exchequer,” she said.