Leo Varadkar believes minimum pricing will discourage the culture of excessive drinking in this country
By Thomas Telford
Within this government’s lifetime, they plan to raise the base price of a can of beer to between €1.80 and €2.00, a bottle of wine would cost a minimum of €9.00. In conjunction with health authorities in Northern Ireland, the plan is to introduce an island wide agreement on the base price of alcohol. Leo Varadkar believes that cheap alcohol is fueling our problem with drink.
According to the Department of Health In 2011, the average per-capita pure alcohol consumption for everyone over the age of 15 was 11.63 litres; this roughly equates to a bottle of vodka per week per person. Given that 19% of the adult population are abstainers, the actual amount of alcohol consumed per adult drinker is considerably more. “It not only makes sense to implement minimum pricing for health reasons, but financially it would reduce a massive burden on the health service. On average, every person in Ireland who pays income tax is paying over €3000 due to alcohol-related emergencies” a spokesperson from the charity Alcohol Action Ireland told us.
An estimated €1.2 billion of taxpayers’ money is spent on dealing with alcohol-related
.crime, including violence and vandalism. There is a reason why we are known the world over as heavy drinkers. Alcohol Action Ireland said; “It not only makes sense to implement minimum pricing for health reasons, but financially it would reduce a massive burden on the health service. We need to stop making it acceptable for people to get drunk and just say oh they’re just having a good time.” The spokesperson from the national charity on alcohol-related issues told us. Around 2000 hospital beds each night are taken by people with alcohol-related injuries or illnesses.
Alcohol contributes to half of all suicides and in deliberate self-harm as well as increasing the risk of contracting over 60 diseases; including cancer, increases the risk of children needing special care with an estimation that adult alcohol problems are associated with 16% of child abuse and neglect cases. It is also a trigger for a third of domestic abuse cases.
Ireland wouldn’t be the first country to introduce minimum pricing. In British Columbia, Canada, they introduced minimum pricing over 20 years ago as a way of raising revenue. In terms of reducing people’s consumption of alcohol it has been a huge success. According to the Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia at the University of Victoria (CARBC), the study estimates that a 10% increase in prices reduced consumption
by 16.1%. A 10% increase in prices reduced liquor consumption by 6.8%. Wine consumption was reduced by 8.9%. Cider consumption was reduced by 13.9% while there was a decrease of 1.5% in beer consumption. Of course the British Columbia case is very different to the Irish one. For example the government didn’t introduce it because they had a severe problem with alcohol misuse, but instead set a minimum price as a way to collect revenue for local government.
Ireland continues to rank among the highest consumers of alcohol in the EU. From 1980 to 2010, average alcohol consumption in Europe decreased by an average of 15 per cent, while consumption in Ireland over that period increased by 24 per cent.
At its recent awards show, The National Off-Licence Association (NOFFLA) encouraged Minister Alex White to follow through on his promise to introduce a public health bill that would introduce a minimum price on cheap alcohol to stop binge drinking.
“I don’t think that would change much in getting people to change their attitude to alcohol.
If society wants to drink it will find a way, whether it’s from supermarkets, off-licences, or local shops” – Charlie Gallagher.
The recommendations from the National Substance Misuse Strategy are; reduce the supply of cheap alcohol; control the availability of alcohol (e.g. British Columbia); prevent the sale of alcohol to minors; restrict alcohol marketing and sponsorship, Leo Varadkar has dropped this from the bill, instead focusing on minimum pricing.
You have to question why supermarkets like Lidl, Aldi, Tesco and Dunnes have licenses to sell liquor. That was not their purpose when they were set up but are now killing off off- licences at a huge rate. The Government is playing a very delicate game with the alcohol industry. The industry employs over 50,000 people in Ireland as well as contributing over 2 billion in VAT. Perhaps, instead of introducing a minimum price, the government should revoke liquor licenses for supermarkets and just allow off-licenses to sell alcohol at a reasonable price. There has to be a serious attitude change from young people as well. No one is forcing them to go out and get drunk. Self-control is a beautiful thing.