By Peter Moor
A new consultation has been launched on minimum unit pricing for alcohol in Northern Ireland.
Health Minister Robin Swann is seeking views on the new proposed legislation which would introduce a floor for the price in the cost of drink. He argues it will help reduce binge drinking and the effects that it brings on health and society and reduce drink-related deaths.
What is minimum unit pricing ?
Minimum unit pricing or MUP would set a minimum price that could be charged per unit of alcohol.
One unit of alcohol is equal to 8mg or 10ml, with each alcoholic drink containing a set number of units.
MUP is designed to increase the price of drinks with a high-alcohol content that are normally much cheaper.
It would increase the price of drinks sold in supermarkets and off-licences including own-brand spirits, high strength beers and white cider.
How has MUP worked elsewhere?
MUP was introduced in Scotland in May 2018. There each unit of alcohol cannot be sold for any less than 50p.
A can of lager containing two units of alcohol has to cost at least £1.
A bottle of 12% strength alcohol containing nine units has to cost at least £4.50.
A recent study showed that the new policy was having a lasting impact on reducing consumption in some of the heaviest drinking households.
More recently, in January, minimum alcohol pricing was introduced in the Republic of Ireland. Officials said the measure would stop alcohol being sold for "pocket money" prices.
In the republic average bottle of wine cannot be sold for under €7.40 (£6.20), while a can of beer costs at least €1.70 (£1.42). Spirits saw the biggest jump in price, with vodka and gin costing a minimum of €20.70 (£17.32), with whiskey rising to at least €22 (£18.41).
The move had led to some Northern Ireland businesses seeing an increase in trade.
Why is the health minister looking to introduce minimum unit pricing on alcohol?
Robin Swann has said he is greatly encouraged by evidence coming out of Scotland, saying introducing it here could help prevent people coming to harm.
“Research has shown that the full social cost to the Northern Ireland economy of alcohol-related harm could be as high as £900million per year, with up to £250m directly borne by the health sector alone and a further £383m in the justice sector," Mr Swann said.
"However, this financial burden can never fully describe the incalculable impact that alcohol related harm has on our society," he said. “The evidence is quite clear that price is a key factor in driving alcohol-related harm.
"Alcohol is 74% more affordable now than it was 30 years ago, and the availability of alcohol at very low prices is encouraging excessive and, most importantly, harmful consumption," he explained.
What could be the impact of minimum alcohol pricing here?
Modelling from the Department of Health has said that MUP could reduce alcohol consumption by 5.7%. The department says it could lead to a reduction of 63 alcohol-related deaths each year.
It also states that alcohol related hospital admissions, crime levels and workplace absences could be reduced as a result of the policy.
So how much would booze cost under the new plan?
A 700ml bottle of 37.5% strength vodka would cost a minimum of £13.13.
A 35ml measure of 37.5% ABV spirit would cost at least 66p.
A 500ml can of super strength 9% beer would cost at least £2.25.
Case of 24 cans of 440ml beer at 4% would cost £21.22 per case.
A pint of beer at 5% strength would cost £1.28.
A 750ml bottle of wine at 12.5% strength would cost a minimum of £4.69.
A two litre bottle of cider of 6% strength would cost at least £6.00.
An alcopop with a strength of 5% would a minimum of 63p.