Minimum pricing on alcohol will not put off most drinkers, study finds

The RCSI and the Health Research Board looked at high-risk drinking and income

Minimum pricing on alcohol will not put off most drinkers, study finds

Alcohol for sale | Image: RollingNews.ie

A study on the impact of minimum unit pricing for alcohol has found the measure will not put off the majority of drinkers.

Research led by Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) shows only 14% will feel its affects.

It found that the cheapest alcohol products are favoured by the heaviest drinkers, regardless of their income levels.

The RCSI and the Health Research Board examined the relationship between high-risk drinking, personal income, place of purchase and price paid for alcohol.

It was conducted using a national sample of 3,187 Irish adults.

The study found that one-in-seven (14%) Irish adults who currently drink alcohol purchase it at less than €1 per standard drink - which is below the minimum unit price.

Almost two-thirds reported high-risk drinking, with men being more likely to do so.

The study also suggests that men will experience greater health benefits from the introduction of minimum unit pricing.

In 2013, three deaths per day were alcohol-related, while alcohol-related harm costs the Irish State an estimated €1.5bn on alcohol-related hospital discharges based on 2012 figures.

That equates to €1 for every €10 spent in public health in 2012.

The RCSI says this figure excludes the cost of emergency care, general practice, psychiatric care and alcohol treatment services.

While the rate of alcohol-related liver disease has trebled between 1995 and 2013.

'Disproportionate burden'

The study said the cheapest alcohol was favoured by the heaviest drinkers - with approximately 45% of heavy drinkers with both high and low incomes purchasing the same cheap alcohol.

Lead researcher Dr Gráinne Cousins of the RCSI said: "The primary objective of the introduction of a minimum unit price for alcohol is to reduce alcohol-attributable harm."

"Some opponents of minimum unit pricing are concerned that consumers using alcohol in a low risk manner will be punished with higher prices.

"Our findings do not support these concerns, as unlike tax or excise measures, the introduction of a minimum unit price would affect less than 14% of the population.

"More importantly, from a population health perspective, we have shown that a minimum unit price of €1 per standard drink will primarily target high-risk drinkers."

"We know that people on lower incomes in Ireland suffer a disproportionate burden of alcohol-related harm.

"Our findings indicate that the health benefits of introducing a minimum unit price in Ireland will also be greatest among those on lower incomes, in terms of reductions in alcohol consumption and harm."

Supermarkets biggest seller of low-cost alcohol

The three most popular low-priced drinks purchased were beer (47%), followed by cider (40%) and spirits (30%).

Beer accounted for the greatest proportion of standard drinks consumed by men, whereas wine was the drink of preference for women, followed by spirits.

The majority of low-cost alcohol was purchased in supermarkets, at 69%.

Buying alcohol from convenience stores, off-licenses and supermarkets - known as off-sales - was found to be the strongest predictor of purchasing below the minimum unit price.

Some 44% of all alcohol consumed was purchased as off-sales, with almost all being purchased from supermarkets (79%), followed by off-licenses (15%), and convenience shops (6%).

The average price paid per standard drink for those purchasing alcohol at less than €1.00 per standard drink was just €0.83.

But it seems this Christmas will be no exception when it comes to cheaper alcohol.

O'Brien's Off Licence is advertising 70cl bottles of vodka for just €20, with one of them - Stolichnaya - reduced from €29.

While retailer Tesco is offering the same size Huzzar vodka from €19, and Scots Club Whiskey for just €15.99.

Supervalu goes even lower, offering the same 70cl bottle of Huzzar for just €17.

It comes as thousands of people are set to travel across the Northern Ireland border for shopping trips in the run-up to Christmas.