Lowering alcohol excise duty would be counter to public health policy

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Alcohol Action Ireland, the national independent advocate for reducing alcohol harm, has today (30 June) called on the government not to follow the calls to reduce alcohol excise and taxes. 

The strategic objective of public health policy, since the enacted Public Health Alcohol Act, has been to sustain a 20% reduction in the consumption of alcohol from 11 litres per capita to 9 litres per capita. The consumption rate for 2019 was 10.9 litres per capita. 

Every euro gathered in alcohol excise duty in Ireland is met with three euro of public expenditure to manage the impact of alcohol harm. The data from the Global Burden of Diseases (2016) highlights that over 2,700 people die every year from alcohol related harm and incident.

The idea that the new government, caught in the middle of a major public health crisis that is already demanding an additional €2 billion health expenditure, would chose to further fuel an ongoing public health problem, seems to be patently inappropriate. Equally, increased alcohol consumption will negatively contribute to economic activity with a likely increase in work related incident and loss of productivity.

Excise rates have remained unchanged since 2013, and in the period since the turn of the new century, there have only been three alterations to the rates. Since the introduction of the euro (2002), excise rate on beer has increased by 13.48% while the Consumer Price Index inflation figure for the same period stands at 22.2% – in real terms alcohol prices continue to fall.

Reducing alcohol excise and taxes now would simply stimulate an increase of  drinking, which evidence demonstrates will drive further harm and demand even greater public expenditure to manage even greater harm.

In 2010, during the previous economic recession, alcohol excise duties were reduced (20%) and the immediate impact was to increase consumption by 5.5%, raising levels from 11 to 11.6 litres per capita. 

Additionally, the Alcohol Action Ireland Market Review and Price Survey 2018, demonstrates the growing affordability of alcohol products to Irish consumers. This analysis is underpinned by the CSO Household Budget Survey 2015-16 (June 2017) data, which when cross referenced with annual alcohol consumption data, illustrates that while Irish consumers spent less income – 3.3% in 2015-2016 from 4.9% in 2009- 2010 – alcohol consumption levels were sustained at, or about, 11 litres per capita (>15 yrs).

Commenting on the proposal that excise and alcohol taxes would be reduced, Eunan McKinney, Head of Communications and Advocacy, said: 

‘Reducing the cost of alcohol that will increase alcohol consumption when public health objectives seek to reduce it, would be an incredibly regressive step. While businesses up and down the country are struggling to survive, there are many stimulus instruments available to government such as debt free grants and/or enhanced liquidity facilities that can support the recovery of vital small and medium enterprises. To do so by fuelling even greater harm and sustaining pronounced health inequalities, would be simply inconceivable.’ 

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