Consultation on minimum price of alcohol in NI launched
Stormont ministers believe alcohol misuse could be costing NI £900m a year.
The figure includes the price of treating addicts, care for people who have been injured through alcohol abuse and the cost of drink-related crime.
Ministers say alcohol is too cheap and they want to impose a minimum price.
It could bring the cost of the cheapest bottle of wine up to £4.20. A 14-week consultation process has been launched.
Executive ministers, Michael McGimpsey and Alex Attwood have said the minimum price for a unit of alcohol should be between 40 and 70 pence.
The plans would mean the minimum price of a six pack of beer would be £4.40 if 40p per unit was adopted, or £7.70 if it was 70p per unit.
Health Minister Michael McGimpsey said alcohol misuse was costing the health and social care sector almost £250m a year.
"In real terms, alcohol is 62% more affordable now than it was 30 years ago and research indicates that a minimum unit price of 40p and a ban on promotions could decrease consumption by 5.4%," he said.
"This would mean savings of £13.5m to the health and social care sector every year.
"We need to take significant action now and this consultation marks an important step in changing our unhealthy relationship with alcohol."
Social Development Minister Alex Attwood said "responsible drinkers" would not be penalised by the new proposals.
However, he said he was concerned about "the level of alcohol misuse in Northern Ireland and in particular how heavily-discounted alcohol prices contributes to the problem".
"I believe there is a strong weight of evidence for introducing minimum pricing as a further tool for tackling the harm of alcohol misuse in our society," he added.
Colin Neill of Pubs of Ulster, which represents 70% of pubs in NI and a third of all hotels, said he welcomed the launch of the consultation and hoped it was "the first step in the process of bringing about effective legislation on the issue in Northern Ireland".
"The availability of cheap alcohol has had a serious impact on health and anti-social behaviour and is an ongoing issue for Pubs of Ulster and indeed the wider community," he said.
"Northern Ireland now has the opportunity to introduce effective legislation ahead of the rest of the UK and Ireland."