Health experts seek law on drink pricing

Health experts have urged the Government to introduce long-promised minimum pricing laws in a bid to break our love affair with alcohol.

It comes as a report from the Health Research Board (HRB) shows drinkers aged between 15 and 34 had the highest increase in liver disease, which was linked to the Celtic Tiger boom. Liver disease normally develops after years of harmful drinking, so was traditionally seen in older, hardened drinkers.

The study, which was based on figures from hospital in-patient reporting systems, also reveals that:

  • 50% of Irish drinking can be described as binge;
  • Excessive alcohol consumption was responsible for three deaths every day in this country in 2013;
  • Alcohol consumption is having a marked impact on our health service, with €1 out of every €10 of our health budget going on alcohol- related problems in 2012. This excludes the cost of patients entering system via the emergency department, the cost of GP visits, psychiatric admissions, and alcohol treatment services;
  • In 2014, Irish drinkers consumed, on average, 11 litres of pure alcohol. This is equal to 29 litres of vodka, 116 bottles of wine, or, 445 pints of beer. This level of consumption is 21% higher than the 9.1 litres per year that the Department of Health has set as its target for more sensible drinking;
  • In 2012, Ireland had the fourth highest alcohol consumption level among 36 OECD countries, after Estonia, France, and Lithuania.

Prof Frank Murray, president of the Royal College of Physicians and a liver specialist at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, said the data shows the importance of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which brings in minimum unit pricing and health labelling, but is to yet go through the Dáil and Seanad.

“This gives us in Ireland an opportunity to change the way we consume alcohol as a nation, reducing the harm and suffering for so many people. I urge all Oireachtas members to urgently adopt this important public health legislation,” he said.

Prof Murray said the sharp rise in the number of young people developing liver disease is a particular cause for concern.

“Young people are drinking harmful amounts of alcohol that will either lead to premature death or lifelong chronic illnesses. The research also shows that, as more women consume alcohol in greater amounts, this is having an adverse impact on their health,” he said.

“It also shows how great the burden of alcohol use is on the hospital system, taking up thousands of beds every night, and contributing to the crisis in accident and emergency departments, delaying treatment for many other sick people.”

Alcohol is also leading to greater violence, with an estimated 167,170 people suffering an alcohol-related assault in 2013.

Between, 1995 and 2013, the number of people whose poor health when discharged from hospital was directly attributable to alcohol rose from 9,420 to 17,120. Males accounted for 72% of these discharges and females 28%.

Also, alcohol-related absenteeism cost €41m in 2013.

According to Dr Deirdre Mongan, lead author and research officer at the HRB, the report presents national and international evidence that the health of Irish people would improve if alcohol consumption and risky drinking were addressed.

“‘The data presented in this report demonstrates that alcohol is price sensitive; when its price increases, then its consumption decreases and vice versa. In addition, when alcohol consumption decreases then alcohol-related harms decrease and vice versa. This is why pricing policies such as minimum unit price or increased excise duty are important public health measures.”


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