Minimum alcohol pricing could lead to increased sale of illicit homebrews

Minimum alcohol pricing could lead to increased sale of illicit homebrews

There are fears that the introduction of minimum unit pricing for alcohol could lead to an increase in the use of illegal drugs and the sale of illicit high-grade alcohol. Picture: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

The introduction of minimum unit pricing for alcohol could lead to an increase in the use of illegal drugs and the sale of illicit high-grade alcohol.

Minimum unit pricing was introduced on Tuesday as a health measure to reduce alcohol-related harm.

Mike Guerin, who is a senior addiction counsellor with Cuan Mhuire in Bruree, Co Limerick, said the changes could have unintended consequences.

“There are people who are chemically dependent who are abusing more than one thing so obviously if the price of alcohol goes up significantly, it will probably result in those people relying more on the other substances that they are abusing rather than alcohol." 

He said they could end up relying more on the illicit substance than they would on alcohol.

He added: “That is one potential downside of what is probably an otherwise sound decision because alcohol-related harm is off the scale.” 

Garda sources said that the introduction of the new pricing schedule for alcohol on Tuesday could lead to the production of potentially lethal ethanol, similar to an alcohol product found in a garda operation in Cork in 2019.

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At the time, the homebrew was being sold in 500ml plastic water bottles for between €10 and €13, and was being targeted at Cork’s homeless community.

One source said the price increases will affect those buying the cheap alcohol and could pave the way for the manufacture of homebrew.

He pointed out: “People will not be able to get vodka or whiskey cheaply anymore.” 

He said it is possible that operations selling high-level alcoholic drinks like poteen for small amounts of money could spring up, with operators of such enterprises preying on the vulnerable.

Mr Guerin agreed. He said that there are very few cases where he has seen a client using homebrew but he added that this was possibly because high strength alcohol products like vodka had been cheap to buy in shops and off-licenses until now.

 “There is certainly the possibility that the new measures could result in an upsurge of illicit homebrews like poteen.” 

Since the introduction of minimum unit pricing on Tuesday, a floor price has been set for all alcohol products under which they cannot be sold. As a result, previously heavily discounted slabs of 24 cans of beer or cider now costs around €40.

Individual cans of beer now retail between €1.70 to €1.80 while a can of stout is just under €1.70.

Wines with an alcohol content of 11% must cost at least €6.50 under the measures, while 13.5% content wines cost at least €7.89.

Minimum unit pricing has previously been introduced in Scotland and Wales, while regions in Australia and Canada also have a minimum pricing policy.

The Minister for Public Health, Well Being and the National Drugs Strategy, Frank Feighan, said: "We are taking this action to ensure that cheap strong alcohol is not available to children and young people at 'pocket money' prices and to help those who drink to harmful levels to reduce their intake. I am proud that Ireland is among the first countries in the world to introduce this measure and to take real action to help those who need it the most."

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