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Time for NI to act on alcohol

15 Nov 2017

NICHS has welcomed the rejection of the legal action by the Scotch Whisky Association at the Supreme Court in London. The Scotch Whisky Association has sought to stop the introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing legislation by the Scottish Parliament.

“We welcome this decision, look forward to the implementation of MUP (Minimum Unit Pricing) in Scotland, and call for the introduction for similar legislation in Northern Ireland. This is a crucial area of public health where the evidence strongly suggests that by taking action we can save lives and improve the health of people in Northern Ireland” Said Neil Johnston, Public Affairs Adviser from Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke.

“It is worrying that, as MUP is finally brought into force in Scotland, we currently don’t have a method to introduce such a policy in Northern Ireland due to the absence of a functioning Executive. Similar legislation has recently been passed into law in Dublin and a Bill is currently progressing through the Welsh National Assembly in Cardiff.Meanwhile in Belfast we are in limbo.

“Perhaps even more bizarrely it has recently been confirmed that the introduction of MUP in the Republic is being delayed until we get our act together in Northern Ireland. So the failure to set up an Executive is impacting on health north and south of the border.”

Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke has carried out opinion polling showing strong support for taking action.

“Opinion polling carried out by Millward Brown for NICHS shows that nearly two thirds of people in Northern Ireland support the idea that the Assembly should take measures to control the sale of very cheap alcohol.

“Introducing a Minimum Unit Price of 50p is estimated to save 63 lives a year and results in almost 2,500 fewer hospital admissions – a substantial contribution to improving health in Northern Ireland.”

Mr Johnston rejected criticisms that the policy would penalise ‘ordinary’ drinkers.

“Minimum pricing and promotional bans only have a small impact on moderate drinkers, the most substantial effects are experienced by high risk drinkers.

“High risk drinkers are people who consume on average 86.5 units of alcohol a week. 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 so 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 lives saved and less hospital admissions, NICHS claimed that the policy would help cut the costs of crime by £20m a year and reduce workplace absence.

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.”

Mr Johnston reiterated his belief that the policy would have little impact on moderate drinkers.

“The studies suggest a minimum price of 50p would result in moderate drinkers reducing consumption by 4.3 units a year and cost them an average £4.70 per year extra.”