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 343.

    #317 Phil Eaves:

    Spot on - great idea.
    Generally... Instead of being angry at the government, we should be angry at the binge drinkers. Stigmatizing them instead of giving them the soft touch and excuses is just what we need.

    As soon as everyone's blaming the government, the heat's off the idiots. This potential tax increase is the idiots' fault. Anger should be directed as such.

  • 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 341.

    Daddy, daddy, mummy said vodka went up in price. Does it mean you're going to drink less? --- No-no-no love, it just means you and mummy are going to eat less!

  • rate this

    Comment number 340.

    Perhaps when the Euro collapses things will return to the good old days and we can go on the Dover-Calais booze run. Overbearing nannying isn't going to stop alcoholics from drinking or idiots from filling up streets after 11pm any more than higher fuel prices stopped drivers from driving, it just put more money into the treasury. Spot fines/arrests for drunk & disorderly perhaps?

  • Comment number 339.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    I'll bet 99% of the alcohol consumed was not purchased from supermarkets but from Off Licences and Bars at the going rate. A great deal of the spilling out into the street comes as we are not allowed to smoke indoors. If its legal eg smoking/drinking alcohol, then damn well leave us alone OK. if your really trying to help us then ban alcohol and tobacco! Yea, i didn't think you were that serious

  • rate this

    Comment number 337.

    To 234:
    It's classical misrepresentation of scientific data, article claims that cannabis (C) causes cancer while data only show cell death and non cancerous mutations in vitro after exposure to concentrates of the substance. Second one proves that acetaldehyde may cause dna damage - but no study shows that smoking pure C causes cancer. Last article is hardly scientific at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 336.

    It is typical of the government's advisers to look at a problem and come up with completely the opposite idea to the correct solution. When I started drinking the pubs were full by 7pm. You behaved yourself or you didn't get a drink. Now because of Pub Companies the prices in pubs are so high people get drunk at home before going out for last orders. Solution, scrap PubCos and REDUCE pub prices.

  • rate this

    Comment number 335.

    So once again the poorest in our society have to suffer a price hike that will hit their budgets, when for the more afluent amongst us can carry on drinking like before. Minimum prices are not the answer, restricting its sale to specialist outlets like pubs and off-licences is. The problem of binge-drinking has come about not because of the price, but because you can buy it absolutely everywhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 334.

    Cultural problem??

    In my native village, farm chidren drink beer from age of 12, & their parents get drunk every Friday. The men sleeping in pub all night.

    This is Welsh ancestral way of carrying on. Locals think it's normal?

    In 19th Century everyone was tipsy all of the time & because if you drank plain water you most likely caught cholera.

    Such is the sobriety of our great nation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 333.

    Simple solution, remove licensing from shops.

    The pub would again thrive and take its righfull place at the core of our communities. The landlords would not permit excessive alcohol consumption. Social cohesion would improve, only the Supermarkets and cheap Booze shops would suffer?

    Give up a little of our freedom for a better social fabric? I would be happy to do exactly that, would you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 332.

    @ 53. Green Future
    “Once again we punish everyone because of a few stupid people want to drink themselves to death, that's up to them”

    And if they kick your head coz “yew lewkin ad me?” what then?

    Secondary drinking kills more people in the UK than drunk drivers… ah also secondary alcohol related.. OK ..more than terrorism!

  • rate this

    Comment number 331.

    I am getting tired of people trying to interfere with our lives. If I want to drink myself into an early grave then that is my choice. LEAVE. US. ALONE.

  • rate this

    Comment number 330.

    @ 03.Opondo:

    That's a bit of sweeping statement. From experience I know cannabis can so serious damage to health, both physical and mental. Also, I wanted to remove some cannabis smoking youths omnce from my staircase. The abuse and threats were justr as violent as anything I've seen from drunks. Oh, and that bloke in Liege grew cannabis as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 329.

    How long until they tax the air we breathe ?

    Rather than treat the root cause of alcoholism the government just want to earn more money and penalise the majority who drink responsibly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 328.

    My late uncle was an alcoholic. He bought his alcohol first and if there was any money left that would go on food etc. If the price was increased he and presumably others would just eat less.
    I don't drink but I'm not sure why the responsible majority should be penalised because of the irresponsible minority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 327.

    @ 250.milvusvestal

    Alcoholics should be denied anything on the NHS.

    Do you apply this to other groups or is it just alcoholics you'd punish?

    A few examples: smokers, the overweight, sports participants etc.

    I suppose you'd refuse blood to those that haven't donated and organs to those not on the donor register too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 326.

    As usual punish those who consume things in moderation. Why not start out by banning products such as Special Brew and preventing pubs/clubs from selling shots at special offer prices which encourage irresponsible drinking?
    Follow it up by charging drunk patients a fee who require NHS treatment because of their irresponsible behaviour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 325.

    sniffing solvents will get you wrecked

    minimum price on glue too

    meths will get you drunk and cost the nhs alot more

    i need to log off now and get down to morrisons before they sell out of all the cheap booze

  • rate this

    Comment number 324.

    Trying to price the poor away from drink has been tried throughout history with pitiful results. And while not wealthy, I am comfortable and a minimum of 50 pence per unit will not change my drinking habit one jot.

    This is a 'We must do something; this is something so let's do it' approach and utterly pointless.

    I think the authors of this policy have had too much to drink!


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