'Minimum Price' Could Curb Booze Abuse

Just a few months after local psychiatrists called on the Stormont Executive to introduce a minimum price for alcohol the Social Development (DSD) Minister Alex Attwood and Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey have announced they will be launching a joint consultation on minimum pricing for alcohol.

Last September, the Royal College of Psychiatrists said NI should follow Scotland's lead in at least proposing a minimum price of 45p per unit.

Speaking at the time, the Chair of the College, Dr Philip McGarry, said psychiatrists see "the dreadful consequences" of dangerous alcohol consumption.

He said a price increase was a very effective way to curb harmful drinking.

"The relationship between alcohol misuse and mental health problems is complex, with alcohol both contributing to mental health problems."

Yesterday that call has been heeded thanks to growing evidence that minimum pricing for alcohol will help improve public health by reducing alcohol misuse.

SDLP Minister Alex Attwood said: "I have recently instructed officials to prepare a paper for public consultation to introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol in off-licenses and on sales In Northern Ireland. I hope the paper will be launched in a few weeks.

"Last Tuesday, I travelled to Scotland and met their Health Minister Nicola Sturgeon where proposals for minimum pricing were rejected by the Scottish Parliament before Christmas.

"My useful discussions confirmed my view that Northern Ireland should have minimum unit pricing for alcohol as a big step in helping address alcohol misuse," he said, noting that he then had a meeting with the Stormont Health Minister, to agree that any such consultation should be a joint DSD/Health initiative.

Michael McGimpsey agreed and now will give the proposals added weight.

"I am meeting the Irish Minister for Justice and Law Reform Dermot Ahern in Dublin in the first week in February.

"Our discussions will include opportunities for minimum pricing on the island of Ireland - given there is so much cross border trade including the purchase of alcohol.

"This initiative, together with proposals and new laws on irresponsible alcohol promotions will be important steps forward in the dealing with the use and abuse of alcohol," he said.

Also commenting, the Ulster Unionist Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey said: "I am fully supportive of this joint consultation and have made tackling alcohol misuse a priority of mine since I took up office.

"I am particularly concerned about the affordability of alcohol, especially for our young people who are more vulnerable than adults to the issues caused by excessive drinking.

"I have also met with representatives from the drinks industry on a number of occasions to discuss a range of issues about the harm caused by the misuse of alcohol," he said.

"Northern Ireland has an increasingly unhealthy relationship with alcohol and that is why I established a cross-government group to drive forward the Young People's Drinking Action Plan.

"Change will not come overnight, but by taking a pro-active and partnership approach, we can and will make a difference," the Minister concluded.


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