Minimum alcohol pricing ‘could prevent 3 deaths a week’

Minimum unit pricing on alcohol could prevent nearly three deaths a week, bring about a reduction in crime, and reduce hospital admissions by over 4,000 per year, a health body has claimed.

The Institute of Public Health in Ireland (IPH) has said that a provision for Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) within the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill — due before the Seanad this week — “is key to tackling inequalities in alcohol-related harm”.

IPH director of policy Dr Helen McAvoy said evidence shows there could be 139 fewer deaths and over 4,000 fewer hospital admissions annually if MUP was introduced in Ireland.

“Comprehensive studies on the impact of MUP were developed for the departments of health, North and South, in 2014 by the University of Sheffield,” Dr McAvoy said. “These modelling studies show that MUP has significant potential to reduce alcohol-related harm in general and in particular among the most socio-economically disadvantaged communities.”

The 2014 report’s authors predict that a minimum unit price of 90c would to lead to 1,043 fewer crimes.

“High-risk drinkers, who comprise around 5% of the population, account for 33% of this reduction. Costs of crime are estimated to reduce by €4.9m in year one under this policy, with higher MUP thresholds providing even greater savings,” it said.

For example, the report estimates a €1.20 unit price would see the cost of crime fall by €11.5m in its first year. The report says MUP and promotion ban policies “would only have a small impact on low-risk drinkers” but does concede these measures “would have larger impacts on those in poverty”.

“However, those in poverty also experience larger relative gains in health and are estimated to very marginally save money due to their reduced drinking under the majority of policies,” it states.

Dr McAvoy described the bill as “a critical component in addressing the significant risk of harm associated with alcohol-related violence, crime and injury as well as the longer term alcohol-related harms to mental and physical health”.

However, Retail Ireland has warned proposals in the bill to remove the visibility of alcohol are ‘unsustainable’.

“While we are fully supportive of government efforts to address this societal problem, there is no evidence to suggest that removing alcohol products from visibility in retail outlets will do anything to address the problem of alcohol misuse in Ireland,” director of Retail Ireland, Thomas Burke said.

“If this legislation is passed in its current form, independent estimates suggest that the in-store changes required would cost individual stores between €20,000 and €50,000, depending on store size, to ensure compliance. This is a burden the sector simply cannot carry, which aggregated across affected stores has been estimated to cost up to €70m.”

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