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NICHS welcomes rise in tobacco prices and urges local action on alcohol prices

28 Oct 2021

Local health charity Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke have welcomed the above inflation increase in the price of cigarettes. The charity's Public Affairs and Policy Manager, Neil Johnston, commented:

"All the evidence shows that the best way to deter people from smoking is to increase the cost of cigarettes, so this is good news and we urge smokers to seek help and to quit now. It will be good for your health and save you a lot of money"

Because of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak's Budget duty rates on all tobacco products have increased by retail price index (RPI) inflation plus 2%. As a result, hand-rolled tobacco will go up by RPI inflation plus 6%.

RPI is currently at 4.9%. This means cigarette prices will go up by 6.9% and tobacco by 10.9%.

The charity also welcomed the Chancellor's reform of alcohol duty but expressed concern that it may not apply to Northern Ireland due to the NI Protocol.

"The Chancellor's reforms represent a simplification, but more importantly, they tax all alcoholic drinks according to the amount of alcohol contained in the drink – this will lead to a rise in price for some low cost, high alcohol drinks. These drinks are particularly favoured by the small number of people who drink truly excessive and health damaging amounts of alcohol.

This measure will not solve the problems of alcohol abuse – far from it - but even if it affects consumption levels marginally amongst those drinking damaging amounts of alcohol, it will be beneficial."

It is unclear whether this measure can be applied to NI, given that Northern Ireland still has access to the Single Market and must abide by EU rules. Therefore, NICHS is urging local politicians to press on with their measures via the Assembly.

"Regardless of whether these reforms can be applied to Northern Ireland, NICHS feels the NI Assembly should set up a Minimum Unit Pricing mechanism for Northern Ireland so that it can set a 'floor' to alcohol prices in NI.

Northern Ireland tops the UK league in deaths from alcohol – we are approaching the situation where we lose one person a day, every day of the year to drink – we must do all we can to reverse this upward trend.

Our charity is very concerned about the devastating effect of alcohol on health and health outcomes. Drinking alcohol can lead to high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation (an abnormal heart rhythm). This increases your risk of heart failure, heart attack and stroke”.

The Health Minister, Robin Swann, has committed to bringing forward a consultation about Minimum Unit Pricing for alcohol in the near future, and we strongly support that. We hope this is an issue on which all the local political parties can find agreement."

The charity also welcomed the increase in public expenditure outlined by the Chancellor.

"We hope that the Executive will now set a budget and financial framework for the next two or three years that has rebuilding and reforming our health service at its core."