Alcohol prices

Republic people traveling to off-licences in the North and spending ‘up to €3,000’ at a time – The Irish Times

In Seamus McNamee’s off-license car park, First and Last, located a few minutes north of the border, are vehicles from all over the country.

The customers, some of whom have traveled from Carlow, Wexford and Roscommon in particular, reflect the boom in business the Jonesborough retailer has seen from the south of Ireland, following the introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP) in the Republic.

“Since the Irish government brought in the MUP it’s gradually gone crazy with people in the south of Ireland. Since March and then the last bank holiday weekend it’s just been crazy. We’ve run out of breath,” Mr. McNamee said.

“It’s hard to quantify the increase because of the pandemic, but I’d say it jumped another 30-40%.”

Beer slices are the most popular for cross-border travelers, Mr McNamee said, as they have been hit the hardest by the new law.

“Before, it took us maybe three or four weeks to sell a pallet. Now, from the MUP, we were producing three to four pallets of Coors or Bud per week. »

Consumers also buy in bulk and buy for four or five family members at a time.

“They come with a list and collect their parts here. You can spend between €200 and €400, up to maybe €2,000 or €3,000.

On January 4, the government introduced the MUP to the Republic, which imposes a minimum charge of at least 10c on every gram of alcohol.

The measure is part of a number of wider pieces of legislation called the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 which aims to minimize alcohol-related harm in Irish society.

Before MUP began, a man could consume his weekly low-risk alcohol limit for $7.48, while a woman could consume hers for just $4.84, according to a 2021 Health Research Board report. (HRB).

While many stakeholders supported the measure in an effort to tackle alcohol abuse, one of the biggest issues was that it was not enacted simultaneously in northern and southern Ireland.

Drinks Ireland, the industry body, said it would ‘also put severe pressure on border businesses and lead to an increase in the smuggling of illicit alcohol across the border, all at a vulnerable time for our economy’ .

An economic report by Ibec showed that a unilateral decision by the MUP would increase the existing price differential on alcohol between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland from 27% to 38%.

Furthermore, he estimated that it would result in a loss of €94 million to the Irish Treasury due to increased sales across the border.

For retailers south of the border, many say their biggest fears about the legislation have come true.

A Donegal supermarket owner explained that his store’s overall sales increased by 37% following a significant store expansion, but alcohol was down by 13%.

“He was hit very hard. We know for a fact that he is transferred to the North. Our people tell us that they will no longer buy alcohol from our store and will instead cross the border,” he said.

Vincent Jennings, chief executive of the Irish Convenience Store and Newsagents Association (CSNA), said the sale of alcohol has definitely decreased in member stores, but that has “not necessarily reduced harmful consumption”.

“From about 40 km from the border, there are very significant variations, then it happens through a ripple effect,” he added.

Further south, opinions on the legislation are more mixed, depending on the impact the measure is perceived to have had on those expressing their views.

Off-licensees, for example, campaigned for the legislation, largely due to the fact that a large majority of takeaway alcohol sales in Ireland are purchased from supermarkets and discount stores.

These establishments could sell alcoholic products at a loss, due to the large supply of stores, a situation that was not possible for premises whose sole purpose was the sale of alcohol.

Evelyn Jones, government affairs director for the National Off-Licence Association (Noffla), said its members “so far have generally seen little change in their spending habits” as a result of the price change.

Some convenience stores are reporting a similar situation, with Next Door Off-licence McGinnity’s Peter McGinnity in Co Cavan saying there’s been “no change” from week to week, although he found that bank holiday sales have “stabilized” as supermarkets can no longer offer deep discounts.

Workers at several Dublin supermarkets said there had been no noticeable change in consumer behavior and people were simply willing to spend more on the same product.

While many in the off-licensing sector saw this as creating a more level playing field, craft producers feel the same way.

Peter Mulryan, managing director of Blackwater Distillery in Co Waterford, renowned for its gin, said the coming into force of the legislation had had a “minimal effect on our sales”.

“I think it’s had a positive effect on craft producers because we don’t have the economy of scale that multinationals would have,” he said.

“It kind of leveled the playing field for us. I think what he did was encourage people to drink better. The cheap stuff isn’t really worth it, so it tends to go a bit upmarket, which tends to play into the craft producers’ game a bit.

However, one of the biggest changes, according to Damian O’Reilly, lecturer in retail management at TU Dublin, is the way alcohol is now sold.

“The channels have changed because the prices have stabilized a bit. It’s good for the convenience sector, because the stores are now able to make money; they used to lose money on alcohol. It gives them a margin change,” he said.

“There has been a change in the size of the packages. Beer slabs are pretty much gone because no one is going to spend on a beer slab, so suppliers are starting to put the product in smaller packages. Instead of buying one, you can buy four packs or eight packs. They have also reduced the size of some cans, from 500ml to 440ml.

And while there have been changes in shopping habits, the real question is whether it has benefited the health and well-being of Irish people.

The country has a long and problematic relationship with the substance, which can be seen in particular by examining the impact of alcohol on the state’s health care system.

Between 2012 and 2017, there were 121,919 hospital discharges with a condition partially attributable to alcohol, the Health Research Board said.

Figures from the National Cancer Registry of Ireland showed a 300% increase in liver cancer diagnoses in Ireland between the mid-1990s and 2014, a rise that has been attributed to alcohol consumption.

Additionally, 1,094 alcohol-related deaths were recorded in 2017, an average of three deaths per day. Of these, over 70% were under the age of 65, highlighting the high levels of premature mortality associated with the substance.

Given that the MUP has only been in place for less than six months, public health actors have said it is far too early to determine whether it is having a positive effect on consumer behavior and health.

However, in Scotland, which introduced the MUP in May 2018 at a fixed rate of 50 pence per unit, answers about effectiveness are beginning to emerge, although conclusions vary from study to study.

Research from Newcastle University and published in The Lancet found that alcohol sales fell by almost 8% after the policy was introduced in Scotland.

The study says reductions in overall purchases were largely limited to households that purchased the most alcohol, with the exception of high-purchase, low-income households, “who did not appear to be changing their habits”.

A second study from Public Health Scotland, published in June 2022, found that drinkers who suffered the worst effects of alcoholism did not change their habits when the law was introduced. According to research, MUP led some people to reduce their food and energy intake.

Sheila Gilheany, chief executive of Alcohol Action Ireland, said the charity welcomed the introduction of MUP and said it was “not designed to tackle the complex problem of alcohol addiction. alcohol”.

“The MUP is designed to help reduce sales and consumption in the general population of drinkers, particularly those with drinking patterns consistent with hazardous and harmful drinking,” she said. declared.

Dr Jo-Hanna Ivers, assistant professor of substance abuse at Trinity College Dublin, said that while she favored the population-level measure, people with alcoholism and addiction can sometimes be a “ victim” in these situations.

“From an addiction perspective, it probably wasn’t going to really change that ending. When you talk about dependence and addiction, it’s incredibly complex,” she said.

“In fact, they can become a bit of a victim because when someone is addicted or addicted and prices go up, then you have to ask yourself for that group, what other things are going to suffer. Food poverty will become a problem for this group.

Dr Ivers said it would be important to “fill these gaps” in electricity and food for alcohol addicts to ensure they are not left behind.

Despite this drawback, Dr. Ivers said there is still great promise that the MUP could be an effective tool in the fight against alcohol abuse.

“If you look at risky drinkers and people who drink harmfully, you can’t separate that from the availability of something and that’s where the big promise is,” she said.

“People were drinking more because it was cheaper and more accessible. If we tinker with that a bit and reduce the consumption of drinks, that’s where the benefits come from.