Scotland politics

Minimum alcohol pricing: Position of Ireland

Opinions of European Union member states on Scottish government plans for minimum alcohol pricing have been released to BBC Scotland.c

Position of Ireland on Notification 2012/0394/UK on the draft Alcohol (minimum price per unit) (Scotland) Order

Conclusion

Ireland expresses its support for the policy agenda being pursued in the above notification; and in this context, is currently engaged in preparing proposals to develop a policy of minimum pricing in Ireland.

Context

In February 2012, a National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group published a report on the issue of alcohol; it is a roadmap for the future direction of policy to deal with the use and misuse of alcohol.

Harms

The report elaborated on the enormous harm that the misuse of alcohol is doing to Irish society. Among the key findings of the National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group on the harmful effects of alcohol were that alcohol:

• Was responsible for at least 88 deaths every month in 2008 (source the National Drug-Related Deaths Index); 1 in 4 deaths in young men were estimated to be due to alcohol, which compares to 1 in 12 deaths due to cancer or 1 in 25 due to cardiovascular disease;

• is a contributory factor in half of all suicides and in deliberate self-harm; it also increases the risk of more than 60 medical conditions - such as cancers;

• is associated with 2,000 beds being occupied every night in Irish acute hospitals; a quarter of injuries presenting to emergency departments and 7,866 admissions in 2010 to specialised addiction treatment centres;

• is associated with harms to the baby because of mothers drinking during pregnancy and is a factor in unplanned pregnancies;

• increases the risk of children needing special care, with an estimation that adult alcohol problems are associated with 16% of child abuse cases;

• was a trigger in a third of domestic abuse cases in 2005;

• related illness cost the healthcare system €1.2 billion and alcohol-related crime cost an estimated €1.19 billion, both in 2007; the cost of lost economic output due to alcohol was estimated to be €527m in 2007 and finally, alcohol related road accidents cost an estimated €530m in 2007.

The Steering Group reported that 1.5 million Irish drinkers drink in a harmful pattern.

Recommendations

The Steering Group made a number of key recommendations including increasing the price of alcohol so that it becomes less affordable; but in addition to this, it also recommended that a legislative basis for minimum pricing per gram of alcohol be introduced.

The rationale for the latter is clear: It is to target hazardous drinkers and adolescents who are sensitive to price changes of alcohol, simply because minimum pricing - as opposed to fiscal measures - is aimed at preventing the sale of alcohol at very cheap prices.

A minimum pricing regime is thus a proportional policy exigency that allows the State to engage another parameter to deal with managing the supply of alcohol for the purpose of preventing its misuse.

Ultimately though it is a policy mainly aimed at those who have a harmful alcohol consumption pattern and should therefore only have a marginal effect on moderate drinkers. Hazardous and harmful drinkers drink proportionately more alcohol, which is cheaper relative to its strength.

The measure is able to target cheaper alcohol relative to its strength because the minimum price is determined by, and is directly proportionate to, the amount of pure alcohol in an alcoholic is determined by, and is directly proportionate to, the amount of pure alcohol in an alcoholic product.

In summary, a Minimum Unit Price of alcohol is aligned precisely to alcohol content.

According to research undertaken, Minimum Unit Pricing is also destined to lead to reductions in health, crime and employment harms; in effect, the higher the minimum price per unit, the greater the estimated reduction in alcohol-related harms.

And therefore, the capacity of such a policy initiative to reduce the adverse impact of alcohol in the areas of health, crime and employment cannot be underestimated.

Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

Ireland is doubtful that Article 34 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) applies to the policy of Minimum Unit Pricing of alcohol; namely, that it would come within the meaning of quantitative restrictions on imports or measures having an equivalent effect; but that if it has to be justified under Article 36 of the Treaty, then - given the harms caused by alcohol misuse in the form of health hazards and increased crime - there are strong grounds to declare that it passes the proportionality test in this Article.

In effect, Ireland's strong view is that minimum pricing is a proportional measure for the purposes of Article 36.