200 fewer deaths with minimum €1 alcohol price

There would be almost 200 fewer alcohol-related deaths every year with the introduction of a minimum alcohol price of €1 per unit, Government commissioned research has shown.

However, minimum pricing will also substantially increase the revenues of retailers, particularly supermarkets and shops, whose coffers will be boosted by almost €70m.

The research, conducted by the Sheffield University Alcohol Research Group, was commissioned by the Irish and Northern Irish governments as part of plans to introduce minimum pricing. These plans are on hold pending the outcome of a decision by the European Court of Justice on Scottish government plans — opposed by the drinks industry — to implement minimum pricing.

The report, details of which were produced before the Oireachtas Joint Health Committee, show a minimum unit price of €1 per standard drink will result in:

  • 8.8% fall in overall consumption.
  • 197 fewer deaths 20 years after the policy is introduced — a 16% drop.
  • 5,900 fewer hospital admissions — a 10% drop.
  • 1,500 less criminal offences in the first year.
  • 116,000 less days absent from work.
  • €1.7 billion in cost savings to society after 20 years.
  • €1.1bn in health savings, €103m in crime savings and €237m in workplace savings.

“There is strong and consistent evidence that price increases reduce alcohol consumption and related harm,” Dr John Holmes of the Sheffield University Alcohol Research Group told the committee.

“Minimum pricing is a targeted form of price increase as it tackles the cheap alcohol disproportionately purchased by heavier drinkers.”

He said the group estimated that minimum pricing would not penalise low-risk drinkers, irrespective of income, saying they buy little of this cheap alcohol.

“High-risk drinkers would, however, be substantially affected as they buy large quantities of the alcohol affected by the policy.”

The report said retailers would benefit, with off-traders (supermarkets and shops) receiving an extra €69m and on-trade (pubs) would gain an extra €9m.

Fellow researcher Colin Angus said 22% of Irish people are drinking at high-risk levels — and account for 66% of all alcohol consumed and 61% of alcohol spending. He said this group accounted for almost all deaths and 87% of hospital admissions.

Questioned by deputies and senators, Dr Holmes said minimum pricing should only be one part of an overall strategy, but it was “particularly effective” in targeting high levels of consumption among high-risk drinkers.

He said while the policy didn’t target the poor, low-income, high-risk drinkers are most affected by minimum pricing.

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