The absence of a NI Executive is delaying legislation that could cut the damage caused by alcohol abuse according to leading health charity Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke. Speaking on the day that Minimum Unit Pricing comes into effect in Scotland, Neil Johnston NICHS’ Public Affairs Adviser commented:
“Introducing a Minimum Unit Price of 50p in Northern Ireland would, it is estimated, eventually save 63 lives a year and result in almost 2,500 fewer hospital admissions – a substantial contribution to improving health in Northern Ireland. Alcohol consumption is linked to cardiovascular disease, as well as liver disease and some cancers. ”
“We very much welcome the introduction of this radical measure in Scotland. We note that the legislation is in place in the Republic and regret that we have no Assembly or Executive in place to push forward this vital legislation.”
“Ironically one could argue that the absence of an Assembly is now impacting negatively on the health of the whole island of Ireland as clearly it would not be sensible to introduce minimum pricing in one part of the island and not the other.”
Mr Johnston rejected criticisms that the policy would penalise ‘ordinary’ drinkers.
“Minimum pricing and bans on alcohol promotions only have a small impact on moderate drinkers. The most substantial effects are experienced by high risk drinkers who will have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular and other diseases”.
“High risk drinkers are people who consume on average 86.5 units of alcohol a week, which is over 40 pints of lager. This group of people represents less than 6% of the population however; amazingly, they are responsible for 39% of consumption and 29% of all spending on alcohol.
“Alcohol sold for less than 50p per unit makes up the majority of alcohol purchased by high risk drinkers. Work done by Sheffield University shows that pushing up the price of very cheap alcohol will reduce the consumption of it by high risk drinkers and bring considerable benefits.”
In addition to reducing premature cardiovascular deaths, saving lives and fewer hospital admissions, NICHS claimed that the policy would help cut the costs of crime by £20m a year and reduce workplace absence.
Mr Johnston reiterated his belief that the policy would have little impact on moderate drinkers.
“The studies suggest a Minimum price of 50p would cost them an average £4.70 per year extra.”
Mr Johnston was also keen to dispel any idea that the policy was a ‘tax-raising venture’ by government.
“Actually the amount of revenue going to the Exchequer would decrease slightly. The increase in revenue goes to the retailers not government.”