Sir, – Reference was made in an article published to the “old reliables” of alcohol and cigarettes in relation to excise duties in the upcoming budget amidst calls from the drinks industry to reduce alcohol taxes (“Wine sales below pre-Covid levels as consumption continues to fall”, Business, September 19th). As it happens, “reliable” with regard to alcohol duties means no change. The last increase was in 2014 so their real value has now decreased by 15 per cent because of inflation. This is quite different from tobacco which has seen increases every year over the same period. The Commission on Taxation and Welfare in its 2022 report noted that it is appropriate to use excise duties to discourage consumption of alcohol and tobacco, to support public health and that the link between the public health rationale and design of these taxes should be strengthened.
Other jurisdictions such as Australia have an automatic biannual uprating of alcohol duties in line with inflation. Meanwhile in Ireland, alcohol duties raise just €1.2 billion while alcohol harm costs the State at least €3.7 billion annually.
To begin to redress this situation, at the very least, alcohol duties should be increased by 15 per cent just to bring their value back to 2014 levels and an annual system of linking uprating to inflation.
The World Health Organisation states clearly, with strong evidence, that alcohol price and its affordability are key components of alcohol use and strongly recommend pricing controls to reduce alcohol harm. Researchers from the University of Sheffield recently found that alcohol prices in the off-trade in Ireland (supermarkets and off-licences) are at the same level today as they were two decades ago, which corresponds to a 70 per cent increase in affordability.
The introduction of minimum unit pricing in 2022 is a welcome move but with 15 per cent of the population having an alcohol use disorder, 1,500 hospital beds in use every day from alcohol-related illness, four deaths every day from alcohol and 200,00 children living with the trauma of parental problem alcohol use, it cannot be considered the only fiscal measure available to Government. It is not surprising that the global giants of the drinks industry are seeking cuts to alcohol excise duties to enhance their already supernormal profits. However, the facts must be considered by Government in relation to Ireland’s cheapest and most widely available drug rather than taking advice from vested interests. – Yours, etc,
Dr SHEILA GILHEANY,
Alcohol Action Ireland,