'We need minimum booze pricing too' say business lobby groups

A Supreme Court ruling means minimum unit pricing for alcohol can be implemented in Scotland. But Northern Ireland should have the same legislation too, according to business lobby groups

WITH Scotland given the go-ahead to become the first country in the world able to set a minimum unit price for alcohol, business and health lobby groups have urged Northern Ireland to adopt similar legislation "as a matter of urgency".

The UK Supreme Court has dismissed a challenge brought by the Scotch Whisky Association, which wanted to block Scottish Government attempts to set the minimum unit price, clearing the way for price controls to be placed on cheap alcohol to tackle problem drinking.

Academic studies have shown that setting a minimum cost at 50p per unit of alcohol would save up to 50,000 people from illness in a decade.

And that, according to Hospitality Ulster, would equate to a modest rise of just £4.70 a year for moderate drinkers in Northern Ireland, but would hit hard at the cohort of problem drinkers (it is claimed that 6 per cent of drinkers in Northern Ireland consume 44 per cent of the region's alcohol).

"There is clearly a need to address the irresponsible retailing of alcohol, like large supermarkets using cheap alcohol as a footfall driver, disregarding the impact on society," Hospitality Ulster's chief executive Colin Neill said.

"Minimum pricing will not be the panacea for all harmful drinking practices, nor will it drive more people back to the pub.

"But where we will see some difference is the move away from trying to tackle our alcohol problems simply through higher taxation and regulatory obligations, as these measures have never proven to be effective."

He added: “For now, Hospitality Ulster will continue to work closely with government to ensure that minimum pricing is introduced in Northern Ireland as soon as possible and by doing so, help tackle the serious issue of alcohol misuse and abuse.”

The C&C Group Ireland, a manufacturer, marketer and distributor of branded cider, beer, wine and soft drinks, has been a strong and vocal supporter of minimum unit pricing and also welcomed the Supreme Court ruling.

Its managing director Tom McCusker said: “This is progressive legislation that will promote and encourage a responsible relationship with alcohol in society.

"While most people enjoy alcohol responsibly and in moderation, we believe minimum unit pricing is a responsible and proportionate measure that will effectively target widespread access to alcohol that is very cheap, relative to its strength.’’

Neil Johnston from Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke said evidence strongly suggested that by taking action on unit pricing, lives can be saved and people's health improved in Northern Ireland.

But he added: "It is worrying that as MUP is finally brought into force in Scotland, we currently don’t have a method to introduce such a policy in Northern Ireland due to the absence of a functioning Executive.

"Similar legislation has recently been passed into law in Dublin and a Bill is currently progressing through the Welsh National Assembly in Cardiff. But in Belfast we are in limbo, so the failure to set up an Executive is impacting on health.”

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