Ireland imposes minimum price on alcohol to tackle binge drinking

The Irish government on Tuesday imposed a minimum unit price for alcoholic beverages, one of the few countries to introduce such a rule as a public health measure intended to curb excessive alcohol consumption and reduce related health problems alcohol.

The rule means that shops, restaurants and pubs must now sell drinks containing alcohol for as much as around 10 cents per gram of the substance. Officials said the measure was aimed at making cheaper and stronger alcoholic products less readily available, especially for young people and heavy drinkers.

“This measure is designed to reduce serious illness and death from alcohol use and to reduce the strain on our health services by alcohol-related conditions,” said Stephen Donnelly, Minister of Health public in the country, in a press release.

The rule calls for a price of one euro, or $ 1.13, per standard drink. This means that a bottle of wine containing 12.5% ​​alcohol, equivalent to about 7.4 standard drinks, for example, cannot be sold for less than 7.40 euros, or about $ 8.35.

Advocacy groups and public health experts have called the move – which is part of legislation enacted in 2018 that included limitations on the labeling and marketing of alcoholic beverages – an important step in the fight against alcohol abuse in Ireland.

“The availability of such volumes of inexpensive drinks in every community in Ireland” needs to be addressed “if we hope to tackle the chronic level of alcohol-related harm,” said Professor Frank Murray, Chairman of Alcohol Action Ireland, an advocacy group. in a report.

On average, Irish people aged 15 and over drank the equivalent of 40 bottles of vodka, 113 bottles of wine or 436 pints of beer in 2019, according to the Irish Health Services.

Sheena Hogan, managing director of Drinkaware, an Irish charity, said the measure was welcome, but added that it was not a ‘quick fix’ and had to be combined with campaigns broader education.

“It’s another tool that can be used,” she said.

Although the new price would mean that the high-alcohol drinks currently sold at low prices would increase in price, most of the high-end brands would remain the same, she said. “It is not the same as increasing the price of all alcohol for all products. “

Some critics of the measure said it would unfairly penalize the poorest people and those struggling with alcohol abuse.

“A flat tax of any kind is going to disproportionately affect families at the bottom rung of the economic pyramid,” said Róisín Nic Lochlainn, student union chairperson at the National University of Ireland, Galway. “It won’t stop people from buying alcohol. It will just push people further into poverty, especially people living with addictions. “

Many students rushed to stores on Monday to stock up on cheaper alcohol before the measure went into effect, she said.

Drinks Ireland, a lobby group representing Irish alcohol and brand producers, said retailers would be responsible for implementing the new law. “As with any new public health intervention, it will be necessary to review and assess the effectiveness of this policy measure.”

With the new rule, Ireland is following in the footsteps of neighbors like Scotland, which became the first nation to introduce a minimum price for alcohol in 2018, and Wales in 2020.

Experts say the impacts of the minimum price on alcohol are still being investigated. But researchers at the University of Sheffield and Public Health Scotland have already found that Scottish policy has resulted in a significant decrease in alcohol consumption among those addicted to the substance, according to a report last year.

“You can certainly have a debate as to whether or not this is an appropriate use of the public health power of government,” said Matthew Lesch, a researcher at York University. But he added that preliminary evidence showed the policy was effective in reducing alcohol consumption.

The move was an important breakthrough for public health advocates and indicated a growing consensus in Ireland that action needed to be taken to curb alcohol abuse and alcohol-related illnesses such as cirrhosis of the liver, said Dr. Lesch. He added that other countries were also struggling with similar problems.

“It’s not just about Ireland: the world is watching a lot,” he said.