THERE has been no decision yet on introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol in the island.
Dr Paul Emerson, consultant in public health medicine, insisted: ‘It’s early days. We’re not even sure it’s practical, feasible or even legal.’
Plans to introduce a minimum price for alcohol in England and in Scotland are being challenged in the courts by the drinks industry.
And developments are being closely monitored here.
UK Home Secretary Theresa May unveiled plans to introduce a 45p a unit minimum alcohol price in a bid to cut binge drinking, curb crime and prevent alcohol-related deaths.
Public health officials in the island are proposing a 50p minimum, in line with the limit being suggested in Scotland.
Following the Department of Health’s decision to support a minimum price of alcohol, a working group made up officers from the departments of Health and Home Affairs, the police, Customs and Excise, off-licence industry and the Alcohol Advisory Service, has been set up to consider the proposal.
It will report back to the Drug and Alcohol steering group.
The idea for a minimum unit price of alcohol emerged out of research carried out by Sheffield University using computer modelling.
Its team identified that 50p per unit of alcohol would target irresponsible drinking while have a minimal financial impact on moderate drinkers or trade sales.
Problems of binge drinking in the island have been revealed in recent surveys. The European School Survey Project for Alcohol and other Drugs (ESPAD) found continued unacceptable levels of alcohol abuse among 15- to 16-year-olds and a lifestyle survey of adults found one in 10 drank at hazardous levels.
‘The figures are quite stark - it is a huge problem,’ said Dr Emerson.
Alcohol abuse is linked to crime, homelessness, domestic violence, homelessness, and family breakdown.
The UK government’s former top medical advisor Sir Liam Donaldson in his 2009 annual report recommending action was taken on the price of booze, stated: ‘Cheap alcohol is killing people and it’s undermining our way of life. Price and access are two crucial factors affecting alcohol consumption.
So should the state intervene – and would a minimum price actually work?
Dr Emerson said: ‘The state has a responsibility for public health. It’s not just the person abusing the alcohol who suffers - children suffer in family break-ups and spouses suffer in domestic violence. The state has a duty to protect vulnerable people.
‘Then there’s the cost to the NHS and the cost of policing.’
He said that the introduction of the ban on smoking in public places showed that intervention can have clear benefits in changing attitudes.
He said the Sheffield study showed that while a 20p or 30p a unit minimum price had a minimal impact, a 45p minimum would reduce overall consumption by 4.7 per cent while a 50p price would cut consumption by 7.2 per cent.
A 50p minimum would mean a 750ml bottle of wine (12 per cent alcohol by volume) could not be sold for less than £4.50.
And a 700ml bottle of whisky (40 per cent alcohol by volume) could not be sold for less than £14.
Critics say the measure will penalise the moderate responsible drinker at a time when people are already facing the squeeze.
But Dr Emerson said the 50p a unit minimum would cost the moderate drinker no more than a £1 or £2 a week extra.
In a statement, the Drugs and Alcohol Steering Group said it was keen to have all the facts relating to the control and price of the sale of alcohol so that any such measures introduced met the needs of the island in reducing alcohol-related harm.
A public consultation exercise will be conducted before the introduction of any measures.
The working group will consider:
•The benefits of the introduction of a minimum price and the impact on those who drink safely
•By what legislative means the minimum price could be introduced
•At what level a minimum price may be introduced
•Should multiple drinks promotions be permitted
•Should the additional income of retailers as result of the minimum price increasing margins be collected and used for alcohol treatment services
•How will internet sales of alcohol (wine by the case) from another jurisdiction without a minimum price be impacted
•Should there be other controls on the sale of liquor from off-licences
•Is it possible to avoid legislation through extension to the voluntary code with off-licences
•Is there an alternative to a minimum price that will not impact on sensible drinkers and target those in greatest danger of harm
•Any other matters that would be helpful to discuss to provide an Isle of Man solution to harmful drinking