Earlier this month, Ireland’s government shared plans to move forward with the implementation of minimum unit pricing for alcohol, joining several other countries that already employ this pricing strategy.

Minimum unit pricing (MUP) sets a “floor price” where vendors must charge a minimum price per unit of alcohol. Therefore, some products will be affected by this change, but some will not.

For example, if one uses the current MUP in Scotland and converts it to American units, a bottle of vodka (750ml or one-fifth of a gallon) contains 30 units of alcohol and must cost at least $19. A bottle of vodka that cost $10 before would now cost $19 following MUP.

More expensive bottles of vodka would not be impacted because they would already be above the floor price. Therefore, MUP is generally used as a strategy to combat binge drinking of cheap, strong alcohol.

Another point to note is that MUP impacts beverages that contain higher levels of alcohol more than those with lower levels. The more alcohol that a beverage contains, the more expensive it will be. Therefore, beverages such as beer with around 5% alcohol by volume will have a lower minimum price than higher percentage alcohol such as vodka, since there are fewer units of alcohol in the beer.

The Price of Alcohol and Its Impact on Alcohol Abuse

In the United States, an estimated 88,000 people die as a result of alcohol-related causes each year. That number jumps to over 3.3 million at the global level.

In 2015, nearly 27% of adults in America had reported engaging in binge drinking within the past month. MUP is an efficient and effective strategy to tackle binge drinking.

Studies have shown a correlation between increases to alcohol price and a reduction in alcohol consumption, suggesting that making alcohol more expensive decreases the amount purchased and consumed.

Additionally, when people drink less, it decreases the consequences of alcohol consumption, like drinking and driving or participating in criminal behavior.

This research suggests that increases in alcohol taxes or minimum unit pricing could be effective strategies for reducing alcohol abuse and the negative consequences that are associated with it.

Countries that Have Already Set a Minimum Unit Price on Alcohol

Several states and countries have already implemented minimum unit pricing on alcohol. Governments usually implement the pricing as a public health initiative, but sometimes other reasons are cited.

For example, in Connecticut, the government allows wholesalers to set the minimum unit prices to prevent companies from selling alcohol below cost. Effectively, this allows smaller stores to stay competitive with large companies that sell in bulk.

Minimum unit pricing is already in place in:

  • Canada
  • Moldova
  • Russia
  • Scotland
  • Ukraine
  • USA (certain states)
  • Uzbekistan

In these countries, research has shown that minimum unit pricing of alcohol leads to lower alcohol sales, in turn improving the health of the public. In the first year of Scotland’s alcohol minimum unit pricing, the volume of alcohol sold fell 3%. The Scottish government estimates that this MUP strategy will save approximately 392 lives over its first five years.

The positive impact that minimum unit pricing strategies have on communities is the best argument for adopting a nationwide minimum unit price in the United States. Any strategy that reduces the amount of harm on individuals and has the potential to save lives should be considered in the fight against alcohol-related issues.

The connection between heavy consumption of high-strength alcohol and negative health effects shows the need for a strategy to combat the devastating impact that cheap, strong alcohol has on communities, and minimum unit pricing is a good place to start.