Addressing Unhealthy Relationship With Alcohol

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The cost of alcohol must be increased, alcohol-related television advertisements should be banned before 9.00pm and there needs to be a rigorous enforcement of the licensing law.

Those were key actions identified by the Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey, if Northern Ireland is to begin to seriously address its relationship with alcohol.

Addressing the Assembly during a debate on alcohol misuse the Minister said: "Our main problem in Northern Ireland is that we have a very unhealthy attitude towards the use of alcohol. It will be a very difficult attitude to change and it will not change overnight, but I am determined to take positive action now.

"My department is finalising a cross-departmental action plan with a clear focus on the key areas on which I want to see rapid progress and decisive and clear action. The plan will be issued in early December but I am very clear on the way forward.

"In my view alcohol is far too cheap. Drink is 62% more affordable today than it was in 1980. I want to see the price of alcohol increased, so that you pay a similar price in supermarkets and off-licences as you do in pubs. By making alcohol cheaper to buy than water, it creates too much temptation. I want to explore the possibility of introducing minimum unit pricing – in other words every unit of alcohol has to cost a set price."

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The minister continued: "Alcohol advertising on television should also be banned before 9pm. Our health messages cannot compete with the vast sums being spent on advertising by the drinks industry. I will therefore work with my colleagues across the UK to ensure that existing legislation on alcohol advertising is rigorously enforced. I will be raising the issue of a watershed for alcohol advertising."

Expanding on the enforcement of the law Michael McGimpsey said: "There must be rigorous enforcement of the law, with test purchasing in off-licences, pubs and supermarkets. It is clear that young people are not just accessing drink through friendly adults. Anyone who is caught selling drink to under-age buyers must be dealt with by the full force of the law.

"I will continue to work with my ministerial colleague, Margaret Ritchie, to ensure that the review of liquor licensing is used to further reduce young people's access to alcohol. This also needs to consider licensing hours, branding of carrier bags and the number of licences issued."

The Action Plan to Address Young People's Drinking has been developed in support of the New Strategic Direction for Drugs and Alcohol, which aims to reduce the level of alcohol and drug related harm in Northern Ireland.

The Minister concluded: "Alcohol misuse is one of the biggest public health issues facing Northern Ireland. Not only is our consumption costing the health service millions every year but sadly, the 'real' cost is felt by the individuals and families who suffer from its associated harm.

"We all have a responsibility in tackling this issue. We need to work together, across departments and across sectors. Above all we need to ensure we are giving a clear and consistent message on alcohol to our entire population."

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