Statement by Minister for Health Leo Varadkar on Minimum Unit Pricing
The Government welcomes the opinion of the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice on minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol products, which was published this morning, and is encouraged by some aspects.
The Minister for Health stated: “I am encouraged by the opinion of the Advocate General which indicates that minimum unit pricing may be compatible with EU law if it can be shown to be more effective than other alternative measures. Therefore, I will be asking my officials to study his opinion and its implications as we wait for the final judgment of the Court which is expected towards the end of the year,” Minister Varadkar said.
“In the meantime, the publication of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill remains a priority. This Bill is now at an advanced stage and I look forward to publishing the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill in the coming weeks.”
The Bill includes provisions for minimum unit pricing, structural separation, health labelling on products that contain alcohol, restrictions on the advertising and marketing of alcohol, the regulation of sports sponsorship and restrictions on certain promotional activities.
The proposed Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 is part of a suite of measures designed to reduce alcohol consumption and limit the damage to the nation’s health, society and economy.
Advocate General Opinion
- The Advocate General stated: “A Member State can, in order to pursue the objective of combating alcohol abuse, which forms part of the objective of the protection of public health, choose rules that impose a minimum retail price of alcoholic beverages that restrict trade within the European Union and distorts competition, rather than increased taxation of those products, only on condition that it shows that the measure chosen has additional advantages or fewer disadvantages than the alternative measure”.
Minimum Unit Pricing
Addressing the price of alcohol is an important component of any long-term strategic approach to tackling alcohol misuse. The price of alcohol is directly linked to consumption levels and levels of alcohol related harms and costs i.e. as the price increases, consumption rates and harms decrease.
The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill will make it illegal to sell or advertise for sale alcohol at a price below a set minimum price. Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) sets a minimum price per gram of alcohol. The minimum price of an alcohol product would be based on the number of grams of alcohol in the product. The sale price of the alcohol product, in both the on and off trade sector, could not be below this minimum unit price.
MUP is a targeted measure, aimed at those who drink in a harmful and hazardous manner, and designed to prevent the sale of alcohol at very cheap prices. MUP will target cheaper alcohol relative to its strength because the minimum price is determined by and is directly proportional to the amount of pure alcohol in the drink.
Alcohol products which are strong and cheap are those favoured by the heaviest drinkers, who are most at risk of alcohol-related illness and death and young people who have the least disposable income.
The University of Sheffield study (Model-Based Appraisal of Minimum Unit Pricing for Alcohol in the Republic of Ireland, 2013 (2014) noted that MUP would only have a small impact on alcohol consumption for low risk drinkers. Somewhat larger impacts would be experienced by increasing risk drinkers, with the most substantial effects being experienced by high risk drinkers.
MUP is not expected to affect the price of alcohol in the on-trade. The University of Sheffield study reported that the alcohol products most affected by this policy are those that are currently being sold very cheaply, often below cost prices, in the off-trade, i.e. supermarkets and off-licences.
The price will be set when the Bill is published and will be at a level that the evidence shows will reduce the burden of harm from alcohol. Discussion on the commencement of this measure is ongoing with our colleagues in Northern Ireland.