Wales politics

Alcohol minimum price law not silver bullet, say AMs

Drinks cooler in store Image copyright Woodkern/Getty Images
Image caption The Welsh Government wants to set a minimum price for alcohol

A Welsh Government plan for a minimum price of alcohol is not a silver bullet to tackle alcohol-related harm, a cross-party group of AMs has said.

The assembly's health committee has backed the principle of the law, which would see a minimum price set per unit of alcohol sold in Wales.

But it expressed concerns that higher alcohol prices could push some drinkers towards other, more harmful substances.

The Welsh Government said the risk was low.

AMs will debate the Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill next week before a vote to decide whether it can proceed to the next stage of becoming a law.

Image caption Dai Lloyd said the minimum pricing of alcohol will go "some way" to improving the health of Welsh people

Dai Lloyd, chair of the health committee, said: "The committee welcomes the principle outlined in the bill and believes minimum unit pricing will go some way to improving the health of a significant cohort of the Welsh population.

"We have some concerns about unintended consequences, including the possibility of driving heavy drinkers towards other behaviours which negatively affect their health, including diverting money away from food in order to purchase alcohol or substituting alcohol for unregulated, illegal substances."

"We see this bill as part of a wider package of measures that are needed to reduce alcohol-related harm in Wales," he added.

The committee was told by users of an alcohol recovery centre that higher prices wouldn't necessarily deter them or they would find alternatives, including turning to drugs such as Spice.

Hazardous drinkers

But the Welsh Government has said the proposal is aimed at people classed as hazardous and harmful drinkers, who consume more than recommended guidelines, rather than alcoholics.

The AMs acknowledged that minimum unit pricing will place additional requirements on retailers but were not persuaded that there would be an insurmountable cost and administrative burden placed on retailers operating different price structures in different parts of the UK.

AMs also believe evaluation of the legislation is critical, and have suggested the Welsh Government looks to the early experience of minimum unit pricing in Scotland, which will begin in May, as a way of informing implementation in Wales.

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said the policy is not intended to work in isolation and will form part of, and complement, its wider substance misuse strategy.

"The risk of consumers switching to illegal drugs or new psychoactive substances as a result of an increase in the minimum price of alcohol is considered low," she said.

"An illegal or untested substance is clearly qualitatively different to the legal consumption of alcohol and there is little evidence of the extent of such behaviour.

"However, we understand there are concerns and this is something we are exploring further with Welsh Government's Advisory Panel on Substance Misuse, who have agreed to look into this issue."

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