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‘Increasing cost of alcohol won’t stop heavy drinkers’

UK report on minimum unit pricing says it may not change habits


Report: Debate is growing about the minimum unit pricing measure

Report: Debate is growing about the minimum unit pricing measure

Report: Debate is growing about the minimum unit pricing measure

A report by UK academics indicates that minimum unit pricing on alcohol may not change the habits of heavy drinkers.

The findings of a consultation on minimum unit pricing (MUP) in Northern Ireland are expected to be released early this year.

Debate is growing about the controversial measure, which came into force in the Irish Republic last week and which has seen prices double for many lower-priced products.

However, it is also claimed in British Columbia in Canada that the introduction of MUP resulted in a fall of one-third in deaths that were fully explicable by intoxication with alcohol.

But minimum pricing for alcohol may be causing some struggling with dependency to reduce their daily spending elsewhere in order to afford alcohol, reports have said.

The people who pay the price for this can sometimes be those already adversely affected, such as children, who may become further affected by financial under-provision.

A UK study carried out last year found most people reported drinking the same amount of alcohol as before MUP was introduced.

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However, it concluded that on the whole, there was little evidence of unintended consequences of the policy, such as a shift towards illicit substances or glue-sniffing.

The findings by the University of Sheffield relate to alcohol-dependent people who are accessing treatment services, and may not reflect the wider addicted community.

They related to Scotland, where MUP was introduced in 2018 following a lengthy legal battle.

Alcohol sales in Scotland have fallen by almost 8% since it was introduced, but arguments rage over whether responsible drinkers have become collateral damage for the measure.

Over 60% of participants in the study noticed prices changing in the months following MUP, with two-thirds describing alcohol as “much more” expensive.

One in five respondents reported they had reduced expenditure in other areas in order to purchase alcohol.

While alcohol consumption had not changed for two-thirds of respondents, half said they had sought treatment for dependency.

Just one in five said they had reduced the amount they were drinking since MUP was introduced.

Professor John Holmes, professor of alcohol policy at Sheffield University, said: “The policy has reduced the availability of cheap alcohol, often consumed by those at greatest risk of harm from their drinking.”

Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane said he had “sympathy” for people whose favourite drink had leapt in price, and criticised the Irish Government for not ring-fencing revenues from MUP for addiction treatment services.

All alcohol in the south now has a minimum price based on the number of grams of alcohol, with one gram costing a minimum of 10c (8.5p).

In July 2020, Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann committed to a public consultation on the introduction of minimum pricing for alcohol here. The move would see a minimum price set per unit (8mg or 10ml) of alcohol. It will ensure a drink cannot be sold for a price lower that the number of units multiplied by the Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP).

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said last week: “Work on developing this consultation is ongoing and it is anticipated that it will issue in early 2022.”

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