Calls for Northern Ireland to adopt minimum alcohol pricing
Health campaigners and GPs have called for minimum pricing on alcohol to be introduced in Northern Ireland after the legislation came into force in Scotland.
The Scottish government's public health measure sets a floor price of 50p per unit of alcohol and is designed to tackle the country's long-standing drink problem.
It means a 70cl bottle of whisky cannot be sold for less than £14, while a 75cl bottle of 12.5% wine could be sold for no less than £4.69.
Strong beers and ciders will also be affected by the pricing changes.
Neil Johnston of health charity group Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke claimed a similar move here would eventually save 63 lives a year and result in almost 2,500 fewer hospital admissions.
"We very much welcome the introduction of this radical measure in Scotland," he said.
"We note that the legislation is in place in the Republic and regret that we have no Assembly or Executive in place to push forward this vital legislation." Mr Johnston rejected criticism that the policy would penalise "ordinary" drinkers.
"Minimum pricing and bans on alcohol promotions only have a small impact on moderate drinkers," he said.
"The most substantial effects are experienced by high risk drinkers who will have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular and other diseases."
The British Medical Association (BMA) Northern Ireland, which speaks for GPs, also renewed its call for minimum pricing to be introduced.
Dr Paul Darragh, who is the chairman of the BMA Northern Ireland's Public Health Forum, said alcohol has become significantly more affordable - with serious adverse health consequences for individuals and their families
"Every day, right across Northern Ireland, doctors see first-hand the devastating effects of heavy and binge drinking on our patients and their families.
"Some one in five people here consume alcohol above recommended limits, with some consuming very heavy levels of alcohol. The affordability of alcohol has increased significantly over the past 25 years, and BMA believes that a minimum price per unit of alcohol should be set at no less than 50 pence per unit.
"We also need action to restrict the advertising of alcohol."
Dr Darragh said the impact of excessive alcohol consumption on the health service cannot be underestimated.
He said: "Alcohol is also a risk factor for other harms including domestic violence, child abuse, road traffic crashes and criminal and disorderly behaviour. We would ask that the Department of Health now take action to implement minimum unit pricing."
A spokesman from the Department said: "The former minister set out her intention to bring forward a consultation on minimum unit pricing for alcohol in Northern Ireland in early 2017.
"Unfortunately, this consultation was not finalised or agreed by the minister or the Executive prior to its fall. Therefore, it will be for a future minister and Executive to agree the way forward on this issue."