Minimum alcohol pricing: Robin Swann sets out proposals for public consultation

The public’s views are being sought on a proposal to set a minimum price for the sale of alcohol in Northern Ireland, based on the strength of the drink.

By Niall Deeney
Tuesday, 22nd February 2022, 6:13 pm
A box of 12 cans of 4% strength lager could not be sold for less than £10.80 under a ‘working example’ set out in the consultation
A box of 12 cans of 4% strength lager could not be sold for less than £10.80 under a ‘working example’ set out in the consultation

Known as ‘minimum unit pricing’ (MUP), the proposals are set out in a public consultation launched by Health Minister Robin Swann on Tuesday.

Similar measures were introduced in the Republic of Ireland last month.

The consultation does not list a proposed minimum price, but uses a “working example” of 50p per unit of alcohol that had been listed in a study by Sheffield University.

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The 50p example would mean a 70cl bottle of vodka, containing 26 units of alcohol at 37.5% strength, could not be sold in Northern Ireland for less than £13.

The study also considered a range of possible minimum prices, from between 35p per unit to 75p. At the upper range of 75p, the same bottle of vodka would cost at least £19.50.

For a two-litre bottle of cider, at 6% strength, the minimum price would be £6 and for a bottle of wine (750ml) at 12.5% strength the minimum price would be £4.70.

The proposals have been welcomed by the charity Northern Ireland Chest, Heart and Stroke.

“We very much support this announcement by Robin Swann,” the charity’s Neil Johnston said.

“We believe MUP is a targeted approach that, by increasing the price of ludicrously 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.”

Mr Swann, meanwhile, said: “For many years now alcohol has been our drug of choice in Northern Ireland and this is reflected in our high rates of alcohol specific deaths.

“I believe that the introduction of MUP will have a direct impact and help to reduce the number of these deaths over time.

“I have been greatly encouraged by the positive evidence coming out about the introduction of MUP within Scotland and firmly believe that its introduction here has the potential to be a key population-level health measure to address the harms related to alcohol consumption and help to prevent individuals coming to harm in the first place.”

He added: “Research has shown that the full social cost to the Northern Ireland economy of alcohol-related harm could be as high as £900m per year, with up to £250m directly borne by the health sector alone and a further £383m borne by the justice sector. However, this financial burden can never fully describe the incalculable impact that alcohol-related harm has on our society.”