Health Minister Robin Swann has announced his commitment to a full consultation on Minimum Unit Pricing for Alcohol.
The Minister said: “The impact of alcohol misuse is being felt by too many families and communities across Northern Ireland on a daily basis.
“We need to consider fully every option available to us to reduce this blight on our society. A review of the current Alcohol and Drugs Strategy was undertaken in 2019 and indicated that alcohol-related deaths continued to rise over the course of the strategy and alcohol-related admissions to hospital also increased from 9,573 in 2008/09 to 11,636 in 2016/17.
“The impact alcohol has on our health service is clear and we must try to address the issue.”
The review of the current Alcohol and Drugs Strategy also highlighted a number of positive outcomes:
the proportion of adults drinking above the recommended guidelines has reduced (from 26% in 2010/11 to 20% in 2017/18);
there was a significant reduction in the proportion of young people who had ever drank alcohol (55% in 2007 to 32% in 2016);
the proportion of young people who had ever been drunk also fell (55% in 2007 to 45% in 2016); and
the percentage of adults who binge drink also reduced over the course of the strategy (38% in 2005 to 31% in 2013).
In conclusion, Minister Swann said: “I have been closely following the Scottish Government introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing on Alcohol since 2018 and have been noting with interest the early positive evaluation reports.
“My Department has been working in conjunction with key stakeholders on developing a new substance use strategy and this will be issued for public consultation later this year. As part of the strategy, there will be a commitment to holding a full public consultation on the introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing for Alcohol in Northern Ireland within one year.”
Minimum Unit Pricing for Alcohol (MUP) is a population health measure that would set a minimum price that could be charged per unit (8 mg or 10ml) of alcohol.
Any alcoholic beverage has a set number of units; MUP therefore ensures that a drink cannot then be sold for a price lower that the number of units multiplied by the MUP.
MUP was introduced in Scotland in 2018, following years of legal appeals by the Scotch Whisky Association. A Supreme Court case was heard in late 2017, which found in favour of the Scottish Government position of introducing the measure and also found that MUP was not a breach of the EU Trade laws.
Public Health Scotland published in June 2020 a study done in collaboration with the University of Glasgow which shows a decline in population alcohol consumption following the introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP).
This study shows a net reduction, when compared to England & Wales, in per adult sales of alcohol from supermarkets and off-licences of between 4 and 5 per cent in the 12 months following the implementation of MUP.
The government says the study is very promising and indicates that Minimum Unit Pricing is an effective measure, but it is too early to be definitive.
Minister Swann has indicated that he wants to see a full public consultation on introducing Minimum Unit Pricing for Alcohol to Northern Ireland within a year of the publication of the new substance (alcohol and drugs) use strategy.
It is planned that the new strategy “Making Life Better – Preventing Harm & Empowering Recovery: A Strategic Framework to Tackle the Harm from Substance Use” will be issued for public consultation this autumn and will be fully operational early in 2021.