An English modelling study by the University of Sheffield’s Alcohol Research Group found that a ban on below-cost selling reduced harmful drinkers’ annual consumption by just 0.08%, compared to a 3.7% reduction for a 45p (60c) minimum unit price.
The research said a 45p minimum unit price on alcohol in England would save over 600 lives a year more than a simple ban on selling below cost.
“The ban on below-cost selling has a small effect on population health — saving an estimated 14 deaths and 500 admissions to hospital per annum. In contrast, a 45p minimum unit price is estimated to save 624 deaths and 23,700 hospital admissions,” the report read.
“Most of the harm reductions (for example, 89% of estimated deaths saved per annum) are estimated to occur in the 5.3% of people who are harmful drinkers.”
Dr John Holmes, of the University of Sheffield, said that such policies would not disproportionately impact on low-income moderate drinkers.
“What we need to do is separate out who we are talking about here.
“If you are a low-income heavy drinker this will have a greater impact than on a low-income moderate drinker, who will be relatively unaffected.”
Dr Holmes said that cheap strong ciders, multipacks of beer, and cheap spirits would be most impacted by minimum unit pricing, and that these were the products that were typically consumed by low- income heavy drinkers — the group identified as of being at greater risk of harm due to alcohol consumption.
He also cited the example in Canada where minimum pricing has been introduced on the various types of drinks rather than on a per-unit basis.
He said that this policy has had a direct impact on alcohol-related hospital admissions.
Evelyn Jones, of the National Association of Off Licences, welcomed the provisions of the proposed Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.
“I would like to commend Dr Varadkar on getting it over the line where his predecessors have failed unfortunately.
“We’re just hoping now that the current minister for justice will stand up beside the minister for health and commence the legislation,” she told Today with Sean O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio 1.
“For us as operators in the local community it gives us a chance to retail in a sustainable economic environment.
“I think it will also be beneficial to other retailers in the communities in which they operate because we are on the coalface of the issues that the minister is hoping to address in terms of public order, social and health.”
Ms Jones said that the minimum price of alcohol in Scotland is 50p, and that an equivalent pricing in Ireland would see a bottle of wine costing at least €6, a bottle of spirits priced at a minimum of €17 and a can at €1.30.