Belfast Telegraph

Impact of drink pricing questioned

Introducing minimum pricing for alcohol would not target problem drinkers and would hit jobs and trade, a pro-business economics consultancy said.

It would cost consumers £121 million a year but harmful drinkers would only reduce their habit by around two pints a week, a report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) said.

The Executive is pressing ahead with plans which could see a minimum price of 40p-50p per unit of alcohol introduced in Northern Ireland in a bid to tackle binge drinking.

Senior economist at the CEBR Benjamin Williamson said: "This report shows that the case for minimum pricing is extremely weak, it would not target problem drinkers and would have a genuine negative economic impact in terms of jobs, trade and costs to the consumer.

"There is no credible evidence demonstrating potential benefits from the introduction of minimum pricing."

The CEBR was founded by a former chief economist for the CBI and IBM UK and has pledged to bridge the gap between economics and business.

Efforts to introduce minimum pricing are facing opposition from those running cheap alcohol promotions, from supermarkets and from those who only drink in moderation.

The CEBR said harmful drinkers would only reduce their consumption by less than two pints of weak beer per week if a minimum price of 50p per unit was introduced in Northern Ireland. It said as a result, the purported benefits of increased alcohol prices like reductions in crime or improved health were also overestimated.

It claimed the negative impact of minimum pricing like penalising moderate consumers, increased expenditure and the economic impact of cross-border trade in terms of job losses were ignored, adding the case for minimum pricing remained unproven.

A spokeswoman for the British Medical Association of doctors said the cost to society of alcohol misuse in Northern Ireland is estimated to be £679.8 million. "Excessive alcohol consumption costs to the health service in Northern Ireland may be as high as around £160 million each year with a further cost of £82 million to social services," she added. "In human terms, excessive alcohol consumption costs 266 lives and 140,000 sick days."

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