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 63.

    It seems that knive crime is high aswell, we should increase the cost of knives. While were at it, it seems there is alot of people speeding on the roads let increase fuel until it stops. It appears were getting to fat aswell lets increase the price of food.

    See the problem with this logic?

    Does anyone else see the problem with this logic?

  • 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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    If you drink moderately the extra cost would not be huge

    But it would still be there, and still be an unfair punitive measure against those that do drink reasonably. Which is the majority of people; the majority which are already squeezed to breaking point for irresponsibilities of others ... again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    This article from the bbc was very interesting:
    Personally I think minimum pricing does not work. What we need is responsibilisation and education from a young age. But that's much more difficult to do than just increasing the price! Lazy policing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    The problem is that now a pint is so expensive in the pubs, I hardly go there and I am not a smoker. I hardly see a pub is more than half full. The price hike is purely to do with cutting down no. of customers because of the smoking ban. The very sad thing is that I cannot believe those hypocrites who are very vocal about smoking ban in the pubs go to pubs often enough to support the outcome.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    This will not be received very well but....want to cut down the problems associated with alcohol?Legalise cannabis.Problem solved.People will always want to alter their consciousness.Better they do it with a drug that makes them relaxed and happy than the 'rocket fuel' you can buy for a few coppers at any corner shop.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Good idea get away from european rules make it law and force the price up too late to save the pub industry where a pint is 3 or 4 times the price of a tinned part from a supermarket wont happen though just tough talk again

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    OK then, let's have a minimum of 50p per unit for off-sales, and a £1 per unit MAXIMUM for on-sales.
    As well as the (obvious) benefits that proof of age and drinking limits are far easier to control on licensed premises, it will also reverse the pub decline, which will provide 1000s of much needed jobs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    I'm caught in two minds about this. Many young people have alcohol problems now and pricing undoubtedly effects consumption levels. On the other hand, no matter what rules are in place, drug abusers have a way of finding their fix. The rest of us would be left with higher alcohol prices while they move on to sniffing socks or something.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    The question should not be will this work or that work in reducing alcohol intake.It should be why are people (experts) trying to tell us what to do all the time? Some dismiss the concept of freedom all too easily. Everyone has a choice,nobody makes anybody drink or smoke.Society may guide the individual but it should not dictate.If its legal then its allowed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Once again we punish everyone because of a few, stupid people. I stupid people want to drink themselves to death, that's up to them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    With high price, the poor alcoholic has to choose between alcohol and food. He will then choose drink.

    If, as in France alcohol were cheap, the poor alcoholic would at least eat, and alcohol on a full stomach has less effect.

    I know reducing the price of alcohol seems counter intuitive and at first might lead to problems, I just wonder if, just this once, it might be wise to copy the French!

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Oh dear. Poor people are killing themselves with alcohol. They are too stupid to do anything about it themselves so we need to help them by making it too dear for them, but not to dear, so that sensible people like us can continue to enjoy our tipple.

    I find this idea a somewhat disturbing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Looking at the lowest rated comments on this issue it is clear that people love their booze which is a major problem, those people who are not clear on how dangerous a drug it really is should take a trip to the gastro ward of any hospital and witness the sheer horror of teenagers and young people dying of terminal liver disease/failure and then think to themselves that could be your child.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Like tobacco people who want it will get it regardless of the cost or by illegal means. Supermarkets made the prices stupidly cheap and therefore the culture took hold. Despite all the stern warnings this and previous governments have made a fortune is made on the duty then they complain about the cost of the NHS due to alcohol related illnesses. Catch 22...........

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    @29 Darren Shepperd - It doesn't matter what the topic is, you still trot out the same old lines. The "tory theivery" as you put it is just trying to correct the massive debt burden left to us by Labour despite thievery such as Brown stealing £6 bn annually from our pension funds. What would be more effective: a higher tax on alcohol or taxing pension funds? Brown chose to attack pension funds.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Ban all those cheap bottles of white cider and extra strong beers....make life harder for the alcoholics. Oh and stop saying its an illness..and paying far more to them than an honest job seeker.

    And all the idiots who are stupid and end up in A&E through drink....don't treat them unless they pay up first.


  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    This is an excellent idea who's time has come! Sadly, the alcohol industry try to muddy the water with untruths which demonstrates it would be effective and they are worried, just like the tobacco industry fought health messages on packaging! There is lots of evidence that it works, and only targets the young and very high use drinkers, not the average person.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Minimum pricing is one step we must take. We have to start taking alcohol seriously. We did it with fags we can do it with booze. We all have a responsibility to our loved ones and to the wider society to take some responsibility for the state of our health. This will help.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Alternatively 24,000 diabetics lives could be saved each year ( main headline) if doctors treated them properly rather than wasting time writing letter to the papers, and how many elerly people were dying of neglect in hospital because nurses not doing their jobs. Away at Alcohol Concern" workshops perhaps? Oddly when the neglect issue was raised last time there was another minimum price call.


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