Minimum alcohol price in UK 'would save lives'

Man drinking beer Opponents of a minimum unit price say it is unfair because it penalises all drinkers

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A minimum price for alcohol in the UK would help prevent thousands of deaths from related diseases, a group of leading doctors and academics has said.

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph, 19 experts said Scottish plans for minimum pricing were a "simple and effective" way to tackle alcohol-related deaths.

They called for an end to so-called "pocket-money prices" ahead of a debate by MPs later on alcohol taxation.

The Department for Health said it was due to launch a new "alcohol strategy".

The group of leading experts said alcohol was linked to 13,000 new cases of cancer each year and associated with one in four deaths of people in the 15-to-24 age group.

Their letter was signed by the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Nursing among others.

'Bold action'

It said: "We need to narrow the price gap between alcohol bought in bars and restaurants with alcohol bought in supermarkets and off-licences, to make bulk discounts and pocket-money prices a thing of the past."

"We urgently need to raise the price of cheap drink," it states because of a "wealth of evidence" linking the cost of alcohol and levels of harm.

Start Quote

It's not just about damage to individuals who drink too much but their children and unborn babies and the victims of alcohol-related crime”

End Quote Professor Sir Ian Gilmore

If the coalition is not ready for the "bold action" of minimum pricing, it says MPs must not "lose sight" of taxation as a tool to lower drinking levels.

Last August David Cameron called for a crackdown on stores selling cheap drinks to stop alcohol-fuelled disorder leaving town and city centres like "the wild west".

The coalition has introduced a ban on the sale of alcohol for less than cost price, which will come into force in England and Wales in April 2012.

In November, the Scottish government made a second bid to bring in legislation which will set a minimum price for a unit of alcohol. It has already put in place a ban on "irresponsible" drinks promotions.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, special adviser to the Royal College of Physicians, said nearly 10,000 lives a year could be saved by a minimum price of 50p per alcohol unit.

He told the Telegraph that the government had acknowledged the importance of price by introducing a ban on selling alcohol below cost, but said this did not go "far enough".

"We're talking about saving lives here.

"It's not just about damage to individuals who drink too much but their children and unborn babies and the victims of alcohol-related crime. The most effective way of targeting the heaviest drinkers is probably through a minimum unit price."

A Department for Health spokesman said its new "alcohol strategy" would be launched early next year.

And a spokesman for Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said he had been reluctant to consider a minimum price per unit because it would not be legal in terms of the EU competition regulations.

Opponents of a minimum unit price say it is unfair because it penalises all drinkers, not just those who cause or have problems.

In October, Anne Milton, public health minister for England, told MPs that a minimum price per unit could be open to legal challenges relating to European competition law.

Shadow public health minister Diane Abbott said alcohol had been too cheap for too long.

"There are record numbers of people being admitted to hospital for alcohol abuse. And the number of under-18s is rising steeply," she said.

"All the medical evidence points to the need for a minimum price per unit of alcohol. Alcohol abuse is not just a health issue, it is a public order issue."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 342.

    Many pubs, often de facto community centres for villages and other neighbourhoods, are closing down because they cannot hope to match the prices charged by supermarkets. I think an idea that hasn't yet been tried is a big tax increase on canned and bottled beers and ciders, with a corresponding reduction in tax on the draught variety.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    as said before this is a cultural problem not a pricing problem look at our neighbours;-
    france, cheaper drink than us, without the problems.
    ireland, expensive drink, same problems.
    way too early to claim the minimum price set in scotland is doing any good, just because sales are down doesn't mean its the problem drinkers that have cut back on the drink.
    stupid idea

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Given the scale and cost of harmful drinking, even if it's not a magic bullet this has to be worth trying. If "stack 'em high, flog 'em cheap" industry apologists say it's a bad idea, logic suggests they suspect it would lead to an reduction in sales volumes. Lower sales volumes mean less harmful consumption of cheap booze means less social/health damage. A no-brainer, really.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    If you cannot buy cheap alcohol you make cheap alcohol and we all know homemade alcohol is bad. Do we never learn from History? Raising the price of alcohol or even banning alcohol does not work. The price of alcohol is not the problem or the cuase of excessive drinking. Prohibition in the USA led to the supply of illegal alcohol and crime

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Why not prohibit the sale of alcohol from all retail trades except Off Licences, Pubs & Restaurants. Raise the age of purchase to 21, proof needed. Ration the units that can be sold to any one individual at any one time. Nothing new of course, we once had this arrangement in the UK and, then, the incidence of "D&D" staggering around our streets was minimal as were alcohol related health issues.


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