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Minimum Unit Pricing on Alcohol – what is it and what will it mean for me?

The Government has agreed to introduce minimum unit pricing on alcohol from the start of January 2022.

Published: 25 May 2021

The Government has agreed to introduce minimum unit pricing on alcohol from 4 January 2022. It sets a minimum price for a gram of alcohol, meaning it cannot be sold for less than that price. It doesn’t matter where the alcohol is sold – off license, supermarket, bar or restaurant – the minimum price stays the same.

Why is minimum unit pricing being introduced?

Alcohol is a major cause of illness and disease, hospitalisations, self-harm, and violence in Ireland. It’s better for everyone if, as a country, we cut back.

In 2019, on average, every person in Ireland aged 15 and over drank 10.8 litres of pure alcohol a year – the equivalent of either 40 bottles of vodka, 113 bottles of wine or 436 pints of beer.

Research by the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group found that when minimum unit pricing on alcohol is introduced in Ireland, alcohol consumption is expected to reduce by almost 9% overall. 

The heaviest drinkers are expected to reduce their alcohol consumption by 15%, while people who already drink within the low-risk alcohol guidelines are expected to drink 3% less.

The heaviest drinkers buy the cheapest alcohol. Minimum unit pricing on alcohol targets these drinkers, reducing its affordability so that less alcohol is purchased. This will reduce the harm that alcohol causes them and others.

This should result in around 200 fewer alcohol-related deaths and 6,000 fewer hospital admissions per year.

Minimum unit pricing is being introduced as part of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018. It is one of a number of public health measures being introduced under this legislation, all aimed at reducing the harm that alcohol causes to our society.

What is the minimum unit price?

One standard drink in Ireland contains 10 grammes of alcohol. The minimum price for one standard drink will now be €1. Most alcoholic drinks are already above this, especially in pubs, clubs and restaurants.

Some examples of a standard drink are a pub measure of spirits (35.5mls), a small glass of wine (12.5% volume), and a half pint of normal beer.

For example, a 12.5% bottle of wine has 7.4 standard drinks and from 4 January 2022, cannot be sold for less than €7.40.

Minimum unit pricing on alcohol prevents strong alcohol from being sold at low prices.

How do we know it will work?

In 2018, Scotland became the first country in the EU to bring in minimum unit pricing on alcohol. Alcohol purchases in Scotland reduced by 7.6% in the year after it was introduced. This is the lowest level of alcohol sales since records began in the early 1990s.

Research has also shown that moderate drinkers were affected very little; it has had the greatest impact on harmful drinkers. It is estimated that it will save more than 2,000 lives in Scotland over 20 years. 

Research on minimum unit pricing in Canada has also shown that it reduces alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm, including alcohol-related diseases, deaths, crime, and health service use.

Why not use a tax instead?

People drink more alcohol if it is cheap. Increasing the price of alcohol will reduce the amount of alcohol that is purchased and this will improve our health. There are different approaches to increasing the price of alcohol, such as through tax. If you raise taxes for alcohol, you are raising the cost of alcohol for everyone. A minimum unit price only targets cheapest alcohol. For low-risk drinkers, like those who are already drinking within the low-risk alcohol guidelines, the change will largely go unnoticed.

Who will it affect the most?

Minimum unit pricing most impacts people who are drinking alcohol harmfully. It is designed to target the heaviest drinkers who seek the cheapest alcohol, which means it will have the greatest effect among those who experience the most harm. These drinkers also suffer greater harm from alcohol and therefore stand to gain more in terms of health as a result of reductions in drinking.

But what is a heavy drinker?

A heavy drinker is someone who regularly drinks more than weekly low-risk alcohol guidelines. These are 11 standard drinks for women and 17 standard drinks for men, spread out over the week and with at least 2 to 3 alcohol free days per week. A heavy drinker is also someone who regularly drinks more than 6 standard drinks on one occasion.

An opportunity to reflect on our alcohol use

The changing price of alcohol is an opportunity for us to reflect on our alcohol use. Get tips on drinking less when out or at home.

If you are a heavy drinker and reducing or stopping your alcohol use, contact your GP so that you can cut back safely and avoid withdrawal symptoms.

To find out if your drinking is high-risk or low-risk, take our Self Assessment Tool