I noted with interest the announcement by the Health Minister Jim Wells of policy plans to introduce minimum unit pricing for Alcohol.
This morning Jim Wells has re-opened the debate on minimum unit pricing for Alcohol in the North, signalling an intent to introduce a policy paper. This is something I had advocated earlier in the year, following publication of survey findings into Alcohol use*. The survey on adult drinking in Northern Ireland revealed that nearly three quarters of adults drink alcohol, with over two thirds of males exceeding the daily drinking levels. It also indicated that 11% who responded were likely to have a problem with drink.
The effects of excessive alcohol consumption and harm are often commented on, and I think that we need to have a renewed focus on dealing with the problem. The Northern Ireland survey reveals that 60% of respondents are in favour of minimum unit pricing, with a range saying that minimum prices would reduce their drinking.
In August a Westminster parliamentary group called for measures that include investment in treatment, regulation on advertising aimed at children and minimum unit pricing. I feel that minimum pricing is a significant tool that can be used, but an investment in treatment facilities is also needed. In addition the Minister must liase with his counterparts across the border to fully inform any policy developments.
I don’t think we can continue to sit on our hands and hope that the societal problems associated with alcohol harm will go away. Now is the time to have a renewed debate on appropriate long term solutions.
*5th Adult Drinking Pattern Survey in Northern Ireland 2013