Belfast Telegraph

Drink pricing that will 'save 63 lives a year' to be unveiled

By Joanne Sweeney

The introduction of a minimum price of 50p for a unit of alcohol could save 63 lives every year in Northern Ireland and almost £1bn in costs to society over 20 years, it has been claimed.

New research also indicated that the minimum price would reduce drink-related admissions to hospital emergency departments by more than 2,400 a year.

The planned move would have an impact on supermarket sales, as they often sell cider and spirits cheaper than bars and clubs. If passed, the cost of a two-litre bottle of cider - containing 15 units of alcohol - would go up from £3 to £7.50.

Health Minister Jim Wells will announce his plans today to introduce a minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol in order to ensure that drink is no longer bought at prices which do not reflect its strength.

However, similar legislation in Scotland and Wales has been held up due to an ongoing legal bid in the European Court to oppose it.

Even after a consultation process here, an introduction date will depend on the outcome of the case.

The minister's plans have been influenced by "compelling research" undertaken on his department's behalf by the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group (SARG) from the University of Sheffield.

He said: "The level of harm caused by excessive alcohol consumption in Northern Ireland is staggering. The total cost to the Northern Ireland economy is estimated to be as high as £900m per year, with the burden to healthcare alone costing up to £240m per year."

The research estimated that for a 50p MUP, the total value of reductions in healthcare, crime and workplace absence would be £956m over 20 years. Mr Wells said the research showed that a MUP would only affect heavy drinkers at high risk and who spent almost £3,500 per year on alcohol.

The research suggested a 50p MUP could have the effect of reducing their drinking by 386 units - equivalent to 190 pints of beer or 40 bottles of wine per year.

Colin Angus, who authored the report, said: "The results of this study show that minimum pricing is a well-targeted intervention, with the greatest impact on the heaviest drinkers who suffer the most harm as a result of their drinking whilst moderate drinkers remain largely unaffected."

A ban on cheap drink promotions here was introduced in 2012 after lobbying from Joseph Murphy, whose son Joby (20) died after falling into the River Lagan after consuming too much alcohol during a drink promotion at an event in the Odyssey in Belfast.

Background

Northern Ireland is the latest UK region to try and introduce minimum pricing for alcohol. The Scottish Parliament announced its intention to introduce a 50p per unit minimum price in 2012. However, it has not yet been implemented due to ongoing legal challenges. England and Wales introduced a plan to ban extreme discounting on drink prices this year in time for the World Cup but this was criticised as it only applied to 1% of sales.

Publicans hail proposal, retailers call it the 'wrong approach' 

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