MUP – open to interpretation?

The European Court of Justice’s recent ruling on Minimum Unit Pricing (following a Scottish Whiskey Association appeal against proposals by the Scottish Government to introduce it) remains broadly in line with the Advocate General Yves Bot’s opinion expressed last October.

The ECJ ruling states that the legislation may be justified on the grounds of the protection of health if it’s proportionate to the objective pursued and cannot be achieved by other measures such as taxation.

In response to this, the Irish Government has stated that a strong and convincing case can be made in favour of MUP over other measures. It believes that MUP is a proportionate measure and the only measure that would effectively target the widespread access to alcohol that’s very cheap relative to its strength. This, it claims, was backed up by research conducted by Sheffield University which showed that MUP changes behaviour in those most at risk.

“As I have always said, Minimum Unit Pricing is one of the measures in the forthcoming Public Health Alcohol Bill,” stated the Minister for Health Leo Varadkar recently.

The Bill has now completed the second stage in the Seanad and he remains committed to the introduction of MUP and other measures in the Bill.

“I have asked my officials to study further the implications of the judgment in conjunction with the office of the Attorney General.

“The recent Healthy Ireland survey provided yet more evidence that Ireland has a problem with alcohol and that we need to take action. Separate research from Sheffield University shows clearly that Minimum Unit Pricing is the most effective way to address harmful drinking. We will continue to pursue this measure through the legislative process and I remain convinced that Minimum Unit Pricing has a very important role to play in addressing this major public health challenge. Meanwhile, the Scottish legislation will now revert to the Scottish courts for a decision.

“Discussion on the commencement of this measure is ongoing with our colleagues in Northern Ireland,” concluded the Minister.

The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill will make it illegal to sell or advertise for sale alcohol at a price below a set minimum price.  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 the MUP.

The controversial 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-price, in the off-trade.

However the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland believes that it would not be possible to implement MUP in Ireland and has welcomed the ECJ’s 23rd December ruling to the effect that introducing MUP would significantly restrict the market.

ABFI believes that the reintroduction of a ban on below-cost selling would be much more effective in ensuring that alcohol is not sold as a loss-leader and would end the deep discounting that distorts the market. ABFI also believes that excise increases are not a viable solution in addressing the sale and misuse of alcohol. Ireland already has the most expensive alcohol in the EU and pays amongst the highest taxes on alcohol.

“Alcohol consumption in this country has declined in recent years and is now in line with European norms and we have also witnessed a significant reduction in underage drinking,” stated ABFI recently.

“We would invite the Department of Health to engage with the industry to prioritise finding an effective solution to tackle the sale of cheap alcohol – such as reintroducing the ban on selling alcohol below cost-price – which has been proven to be effective in this market.”

The Convenience Stores and Newsagents Association also found fault with proposals on structural separation in the forthcoming Alcohol Bill. It stated recently that the Minister’s intention to introduce significant restrictions in how alcohol may be sold will cost jobs and hasten the closure of many family-run businesses.

The CSNA’s Chief Executive Vincent Jennings pointed out that, “The Minister for Health is of the view that reducing visibility of inanimate objects (bottles, cans etc) will reduce consumption while drinkers consuming vast quantities of alcohol at tables full of beer glasses, shorts and shots in pubs, clubs etc are not considered to be worthy of restriction. There is no evidence that would suggest that our sector is any more culpable than any other sector currently licensed to sell alcohol.

“We repeat – no evidence of increases in Public Order or Public Health offences can be laid at our specific sector.

These attempts to de-normalise alcohol by making it next to impossible for CSNA businessd to achieve these new restrictive criteria “is one more assault upon the small and medium retail business sector – it won’t hurt Tesco, Dunnes, Lidl or Aldi but it will hurt you” he told his members recently, urging them to contact their TD to express their opposition to the Bill.




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