Ireland is set to introduce minimum alcohol pricing in a bid to reduce drinking levels that are among the highest in the Western world, the government announced Wednesday.
The bill comes as part of a wider push to change what Health Minister Leo Varadkar called “Ireland’s damaging attitude to alcohol” and discourage young people from binge drinking.
Ireland has one of the highest alcohol consumption rates of countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), averaging 11 litres per capita for 2014 according to estimates.
Experts say one in four deaths of Irish people under the age of 50 are due to alcohol.
The minimum pricing proposals are expected to hit alcohol bought in off-licences more than drinks sold in Ireland’s famous pubs.
One unit of alcohol would cost roughly one euro ($1.10), meaning that the minimum price for a 500ml can of beer would be two euros and the cheapest 750ml bottle of wine would cost around eight euros.
“The evidence about Ireland’s drinking habits is shocking. Four out of ten drinkers typically engage in binge drinking,” Varadkar said.
“This bill addresses alcohol as a public health issue for the first time by tackling price, availability, marketing, advertising and labelling.”
The bill is unlikely to become law before next year’s general election although Varadkar’s party is expected to be returned to power in the vote.
It aims to reduce average annual alcohol consumption in Ireland from 11 to 9.1 litres per person by 2020.
Other changes include a physical separation of alcohol from other products in grocery stores and a ban on price-based promotions, such as “student night” offers.
Frank Murray, president of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, said: “It is frightening that three people die every day in Ireland as a result of our harmful relationship with alcohol.”
The medical director of the Rutland Centre, Ireland’s largest private rehabilitation clinic, described the publication of the bill as “a progressive move” but said more work was required.
“I think we need to go further to tackle this problem and try to reverse the cultural acceptance of excessive drinking,” he said.
Business lobby group Ibec meanwhile said the bill would penalise “responsible consumers and a sector that provides valuable employment across the country.”