Cork addiction experts: 'Benefits of minimum unit pricing take time'

It's too early yet to see the real benefits of minimum unit alcohol pricing, addiction experts tell Ellen O'Regan, but it's the first step in the right direction
Cork addiction experts: 'Benefits of minimum unit pricing take time'

David Lane, HSE Co-ordinator of Drug and Alcohol Services. pictures Gerard McCarthy 087 8537228.

A year on from the introduction of minimum unit alcohol pricing, those working in addiction services say that it is a “hugely important public health measure”, but that more time is needed to fully appreciate its impacts.

On January 4, 2022, the Public Health Alcohol Act 2018 introduced minimum unit pricing for alcohol sold in any premises in Ireland – be it off-license, supermarket, bar or restaurant.

The measure aimed to reduce the sale of very strong alcohol products at very low prices, and set a minimum price of €1 per standard drink, which contains 10 grammes of alcohol.

In the year since, Drinkaware report that public demand for information, education and awareness regarding alcohol have soared.

Over 450,000 people visited Drinkaware.ie in 2022, a 20% increase on 2021; with 143,672 coming to the website to find out more information on drink driving, over 42,000 to learn more about the HSE low-risk weekly alcohol guidelines, 13,706 for advice on how to talk to young people about drinking and a staggering 26,567 visited the webpage explaining minimum unit pricing, spending on average over six minutes on the page.

David Lane, HSE Co-ordinator of Drug and Alcohol Services, said that while 12 months on is too soon to see any significant benefits from minimum unit pricing, he is still “100% behind it” as a public health measure.

“It’s a bit early yet to see a big impact, but I think in time we will begin to see that… I think in the long term it will be part of the solution to some of the major challenges that we have around the quantities of alcohol that are consumed in this country,” he said.

Mr Lane said that the measure aims to tackle one of the major challenges in dealing with alcohol abuse - availability.

Mick Devine, Clinical Director with Cork based addiction treatment centre Tabor Group. Pic: Brian Lougheed
Mick Devine, Clinical Director with Cork based addiction treatment centre Tabor Group. Pic: Brian Lougheed

However, he added that other “contradictory” measures coming down the line, such as extended trading hours for licenced premises in the Sale of Alcohol Bill, set to be enacted this year, are a “disappointment”.

“One of the disappointments that we’ve had in recent months was the debate around extending the hours of licences… again it’s that whole thing around the availability of alcohol. 

"On the one hand the Public Health Alcohol Act is a hugely important public health measure, on the other hand introducing other legislation that contradicts it is a hugely problematic prospect,” he said.

Mick Devine, Clinical Director with Cork based addiction treatment centre Tabor Group, agreed that it is too soon to tell the impacts of minimum unit alcohol pricing on their service users.

“People are presenting here to us with alcohol problems that have been in place for years, so there wouldn’t have been enough time for a measure like this to have taken any effect,” he said.

However, Mr Devine said that minimum unit pricing has a wider effect, in addressing alcohol abuse at a societal level in Ireland.

“The minimum unit pricing is an important measure, it should be here to stay, it should become part and parcel of how we regulate alcohol use. 

"It draws attention to a broader societal problem with alcohol, and is one measure for us to come to terms with our national alcohol problem,”

he said.

Mr Devine said that often people with alcohol misuse problems are stigmatised and shamed, rather than Irish society “grasping the nettle” of how extensive alcohol misuse is.

“There’s something about it that we don’t want to admit and we don’t want to confront it. It’s a sore point, and we tend to not want to admit it, or talk about it or take it on. 

"The measures we need to take to really come to terms with it… minimum unit pricing one year in is kind of the tip of the ice-berg,” he said.

“We’ll know its effective if we can have a wider blanket conversation nationally about our health problem, and if we can change our relationship nationally with alcohol. 

"The minimum unit pricing is the acknowledgment that there is a bigger problem here that we need to grasp, it’s a necessary step. It’s not sufficient, but it’s a necessary step,” he added.

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