Booze in Ireland and Minimum Unit Pricing

Published on 19 April 2021 at 12:50

The alcohol consumption, alcohol-related harm, and alcohol policy in Ireland for 2021 has been published. Ireland is a nation of drinkers; the new report places Ireland 9th in the world ranking for alcohol consumption. This report, along with many statistics and data presentations based on previous years, give a clearer picture of the trends occurring and developing within Ireland.


All the evidence would support the idea of a minimum unit pricing (MUP) policy for alcohol within Ireland. It has already been discussed at length and is a somewhat controversial policy which has stalled for the time being. There is now also available data on the effects of MUP in Scotland, which introduced the policy back in 2018.


Before going into the explanation of MUP, some data helps create the current picture of consumption within Ireland.

“In 2019, per capita, alcohol consumption per adult aged 15 and over was 10.8 litres of pure alcohol; this corresponds to 40 (700ml) bottles of vodka, 113 (750ml) bottles of wine, or 436 pints of beer (alcohol by volume (ABV) 4.3%). Consumption in 2019 was 19% higher than the stated aim of the Irish Government to reduce per capita alcohol consumption in Ireland to 9.1 litres by 2020.”


Pubs have declined since 1998, with the Off-Licence exploding in growth, fuelling, and selling cheaper per unit alcohol. In 2016 the Off-Licence traders held 61% of the alcohol consumption market.


Alcohol consumption contributes to 3.7% of deaths in Ireland and causes beds to be taken up in hospitals. Furthermore, liver disease and other related procedures can be blamed on alcohol; alcohol poisoning, binge drinking and increasing attributed deaths in over 65s and linkages to suicide are all on the increase.


The MUP is a price floor, preventing prices from falling below a specific point. Because the Government would introduce it, it becomes a legal requirement that no unit of alcohol be sold under the price floor. The argument of MUP is to target loss leaders, reduce alcohol consumption, eliminate low price high ABV content drinks, and reduce alcohol-related deaths and diseases.


One standard drink in Ireland contains 10 grams of alcohol, and MUP would place €1 per standard drink. Spirits would be sold for no less than €21, wine for €7 and beer for €2. No alcoholic beverage according to its category could be sold for less than the above-stated minimum prices. The suggestion of an MUP/Price floor has faced criticism, and it will be interesting to see how much this criticism reacts in the face of empirical data.


MUP in Scotland has reduced consumption among men, who were the higher purchasers and most likely to be abusing the substance. There have also been attributed reductions in alcohol-related deaths. Retailers have been reported to reduce or stop stocking products that have seen significant increases in MUP. (These can include loss leaders, own brands and large ciders).


Overall, there has been a price increase of 3p of on cheap drinks, and drinks over 50p have seen no change in price. There has been an average of 11% reduction in consumption of alcohol units in households, as well as a reduction of the number of heavy drinkers by 12%.


Numerous studies and research papers now exist that explore the effects of MUP. In short, they report that price floors on alcohol have achieve their desired target of reducing consumption, alcohol-related harm and do not significantly impact lower-income consumption groups. The average purchasing cost of alcohol was found to be £1.88 more then previously.


In Canada, a 10% increase in MUP resulted in a 32% fall in alcohol-related deaths, and in Scotland, MUP has reduced off-trade (off licences) purchases by 3%, and sales per capita by 5%. Alcohol specific deaths fell by 7% in the first eight months of MUP. However, these are in line with reductions in England too. Alcohol sales in Scotland fell relative to England and Wales following the introduction of MUP.


The conclusions of minimum pricing show reduced harmful consumption, no adverse effect on the alcohol industry or retailers, no significant increase in cost (only MUP affected drinks increased in price), a reduction in off-licence purchases and a reduction harmful drinking among men but not women as of yet.   


Other counterpoints show the MUP resulting in a tax loss as it eats into consumption and sales taxes. However the in the long run, the MUP cuts down on externalities such as costs of crime and healthcare that far outweigh the possible vat losses in pure financial figures.


Some argue that MUPs effects do not go far enough to effectively reduce consumption or reduce cross-border purchases and others call it a classist policy. Studies have shown in Scotland that lower-income households consume less on average than others but have more significant problems with alcohol-related health problems and extreme heavy drinking. Alternative policies include an increase in Duty based on Alcohol content that would encourage the consumption of low ABV drinks.


The data examined stated above has disproved the notion of unfair economic differences in MUP. However, MUP has shown success in achieving its desired targets of reducing heavy-harmful drinking, reducing and eliminating the sale of low price high alcohol, cheap booze. This price control/price floor has so far proven to be a valuable tool in tackling alcohol abuse and has not so far done what naysayers accused the policy of potentially doing.


With the data now for those refuters to counter, the Republic of Ireland would benefit from the implementation of MUP. The total costs of alcohol abuse in public health, mental health and economic losses are available to the public. The MUP would drastically change Ireland’s harmful consumption habits and reduce negative alcohol related externalities.

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