NI doctor calls for tax increases on sale of alcohol

A Northern Ireland-based doctor has called for tax increases on the sale of alcohol.

Dr Paul Darragh, who specialises in acute medicine and works at Antrim Area Hospital, also supports the introduction of minimum unit pricing - setting a price below which a unit of alcohol cannot legally be sold.

Northern Ireland-based doctor Dr Paul Darragh, who has called for tax increases on the sale of alcohol.

Northern Ireland-based doctor Dr Paul Darragh, who has called for tax increases on the sale of alcohol.

The Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA) coalition has launched a campaign calling on MPs to end what it terms alcohol tax breaks in the Chancellor’s upcoming autumn Budget, to ease pressure on the NHS and other public services.

Dr Darragh said he saw the devastating effects of heavy and binge drinking on a daily basis and urged the Government to take action.

He said: “I see the damage it does to families and relationships, its role in domestic abuse, how it can lead to violence and play a role in road traffic accidents.

“The NHS is facing its biggest ever crisis and at a time when it is working to capacity, alcohol places an additional and unnecessary strain on resources.”

The AHA coalition of 50 organisations is calling for an increase in alcohol duty - 2% above inflation - and the introduction of minimum unit pricing.

It is encouraging people to send MPs a personalised postcard to show their support for action on cheap alcohol.

The postcards tell the story of how individuals, including Dr Darragh, have experienced the devastating impact of alcohol.

While proponents of minimum unit pricing argue that low prices lead to increased consumption, those against the change believe reforming taxes would be more effective.

The price of cheap, high-strength alcohol went up in Scotland as long-awaited legislation on minimum pricing was introduced earlier this year.

Dr Darragh said: “Alcohol is available for pocket-money prices and can be cheaper than bottled water or fizzy pop - that is scary.

“Education on the dangers of alcohol is extremely important if we are to change the UK’s drinking culture, but this will only take us so far.

“It is essential that we introduce statutory policies which tackle the sale of cheap alcohol such as increased taxes and minimum unit pricing.”

He said minimum unit pricing had proven to be evidence-based, targeted and effective.

“It would make a difference to the lives of problem drinkers, preventing harm and saving lives, and would be a step in the right direction to reducing the most harmful levels of alcohol consumption,” he added.

Colin Neill, chief executive of publicans’ group Hospitality Ulster, said it favoured minimum unit pricing (MUP) to encourage responsible drinking.

Its research showed 44% of alcohol was consumed by 6% of the population and misuse of alcohol cost the health service around £900 million a year.

“We have a duty to sell alcohol responsibly. Alcohol is a controlled substance, it should not be used as a commodity to drive footfall for supermarkets.

“By heavily discounting alcohol in supermarkets, home drinking is encouraged and it is home drinking that is generally accepted as having many more negative than positive aspects when it comes to responsible drinking.

“Hospitality Ulster’s support of MUP is not about driving footfall to the on-trade.

“In fact, given such a high price differential between the on-trade and off-trade, due to much higher operating costs in the on-trade, it is unlikely to increase sales.

“Indeed there is the potential that it will lead to a slight decrease in demand.”