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Yes or No to Minimum Unit Pricing in Northern Ireland?

24 Jan 2022
Neil and Declan Stormont

Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke is calling for all political parties who intend to stand in the Assembly elections to support the introduction of a policy of having a Minimum Unit Price (MUP) for alcohol in Northern Ireland.

“We believe MUP is a targeted approach that, by increasing the price of extremely cheap alcohol, will lead to a reduction in consumption amongst those who are drinking damaging quantities of drink. Even a small reduction will lead to significant health improvements.”

‘’We all know drinking too much alcohol can have a devastating effect on your heart health and can cause high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation (an abnormal heart rhythm). This increases your risk of heart failure, heart attack and stroke. In addition, because alcohol contains a lot of calories, drinking a lot can lead to weight gain or even obesity, which are also bad for your heart health. Due to these health risks NICHS encourages people to drink responsibly generally and we are also campaigning for the introduction of MUP in NI.”

“It is not a silver bullet, but we need to recognise that a significant proportion of the population are drinking damaging amounts of alcohol and we need a range of measures to address that – including MUP.”

Neil Johnston, Public Affairs and Policy Manager for NICHS went on to call on all political parties to make their position clear.

“The public should be told, ahead of the elections, which parties will back this measure, and which will not. We believe we need legislation on this as soon as possible – we are lagging behind Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland who introduced MUP in the South at the start of January this year.”

“High risk drinkers are defined as those drinking on average 86.5 units a week – that’s about 28 pints of strong beer. Government advice is that people should not drink more than 14 units a week. A unit of alcohol is equivalent to: a single measure of spirits; half a pint of average-strength (4%) lager; or two-thirds of a small glass of average-strength (12%) wine.”

A study of Northern Ireland by Sheffield University showed that high risk drinkers make up 5.8% of the population, are responsible for 39% of consumption of alcohol and 29% of all spending.

Neil Johnston continued;

“We need to act to assist people to change their behaviour and MUP must be one part of comprehensive programme of action.”

He also dismissed the idea that MUP would hit ordinary drinkers at a time when rising prices were squeezing people’s household budgets.

“This measure will not affect the prices of drink in pubs, restaurants, night clubs or hotels – they don’t sell alcohol at extremely low prices. Indeed, most occasional drinkers who buy alcohol in the supermarkets will barely notice this move because it is so targeted.”