Section 11 of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act provides for a minimum price of 10c per gram of alcohol. The minimum price is determined solely by the amount of alcohol in the product. Minimum unit pricing sets a floor price below which alcohol cannot be sold. Alcohol can be sold above this price but not below it and evidence has shown that Minimum Unit Pricing will not affect the majority of alcohol products but targets only alcohol products that are currently very cheap relative to their strength.
The 2013 Government Decision which approved the implementation of minimum pricing in Ireland envisaged that it would be introduced here and in Northern Ireland simultaneously. This was to allay concerns that its introduction in the Republic only would impact cross-border trade.
Legislation to introduce a minimum unit price has not yet been introduced in Northern Ireland however in July last year, the Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann committed to a public consultation on minimum pricing for alcohol in Northern Ireland which will begin following the launch of the new Northern Ireland Substance Use Strategy early this year.
In 2013, my Department commissioned research from the University of Sheffield to estimate the effect of a range of Minimum Unit Prices, and other pricing policies, on low risk, increasing risk and high-risk drinkers. The findings included that:
- A ban on below-cost selling (implemented as a ban on selling alcohol for below the cost of duty and Value Added Tax) would have a negligible impact on alcohol consumption or related harms.
- A 10c per gram of alcohol or €1 for 10 grams of alcohol minimum unit price would be an effective measure to reduce alcohol consumption among high risk drinkers, leading to significant reductions in alcohol-related harm.
- Lower risk drinkers would experience smaller impacts on their alcohol consumption and spending as a result of the introduction of a 10c per gram of alcohol MUP.
- Large duty increases of between 53% and 78% would be required to achieve the same reductions in alcohol consumption and alcohol-attributable deaths as a 10c per gram of alcohol MUP. These duty increases would have a greater impact on the consumption and spending of low risk drinkers than a 10c per gram MUP.
- The introduction of a 10c per gram of alcohol MUP was estimated to reduce the amount that high risk drinkers spend on alcohol, in contrast to duty increases which would increase it. Larger duty increases lead to large increases in spending on alcohol for all drinkers.
Also, in 2013, CJP Consultants were commissioned by my Department to examine the following price control measures:
- Minimum Unit Pricing;
- The reintroduction of a ban on below cost selling;
- Making the sales price of alcohol cover at least VAT plus excise and
- Excise fiscal measures.
The Report concluded that Minimum Unit Pricing is the best policy option, it would prove very beneficial as a public health measure and it would need to be accompanied by other measures to make it most effective in lowering consumption.
In 2016, my Department commissioned further research from the University of Sheffield to evaluate the comparative impacts of Minimum Unit Pricing and alcohol taxation increases.
I am happy to provide the Deputy with this research if he wishes to have it.