MUP: The evidence behind new pricing to target harmful drinking

Researchers: Dr Deirdre Mongan and Dr Jean Long, HRB Evidence Centre

HRB data informed a decision to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol in Ireland. This will raise the price of high-alcohol, low-quality drinks that can be responsible for harmful drinking.
In Summary

An estimated 88 people die in Ireland each month from alcohol-related causes, which equates to 2-3 deaths per day. In addition, harmful drinking patterns including binge drinking underlie an enormous cost to health services and individual human suffering.

Findings from a HRB report informed the introduction of ‘minimum unit pricing’ this year which is designed to ensure that strong alcoholic drinks are not available cheaply to consumers. This approach specifically targets harmful drinking and was set out in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015.

The Problem

Public health measures are needed to tackle the harmful consumption of alcohol in Ireland. However, ‘blanket’ approaches such as excise duties affect all consumers who buy or drink alcohol, not just those who drink harmfully, so more targeted public health measures are needed.

The Project

The Department of Health asked the HRB to gather evidence about alcohol consumption in Ireland. Dr Deirdre Mongan and Dr Jean Long at the HRB Evidence Centre worked on this survey.
They surveyed alcohol behaviours in Ireland, looked at the retail cost of alcohol to consumers and gathered evidence on the health impacts of alcohol consumption. They published their findings in a report, ‘Alcohol Consumption in Ireland’.

The Outcomes

We now know that: -

More than half of people in Ireland aged between 18 and 75 who drink alcohol are classified as ‘harmful drinkers’, which means there are more than 1.35 million harmful drinkers in Ireland, and many are in the 18-24 age group.

The evidence in the report provided data for a modelling study at the University of Sheffield. This informed the decision to introduce a Minimum Unit Price (MUP) for alcohol in Ireland at 1 Euro per standard drink (10 grams of alcohol) in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015.

MUP is designed to increase the price of cheap alcohol, which is more often the choice of heavy drinkers and young consumers.

Dr Deirdre Mongan, Research Officer with the HRB Evidence Centre, says:

'It is very much a balancing act in public health. We want to target the people who particularly need to be targeted, but excise duties affect everyone who drinks alcohol. By placing restrictions on the minimum unit price, or MUP, we can ensure that alcohol is not sold too cheaply to consumers. This helps to target the ‘harmful drinkers’ and younger drinkers who tend to buy cheaper alcohol and who are overall more likely to develop health problems'.