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28.11.12

Minimum unit price could be set at 45p

The Government is publishing its consultation on alcohol today, including the proposal that a minimum price per unit should be set at 45p. This is higher than the originally suggested 40p, but lower than the price being set in Scotland of 50p.

The consultation also proposes banning multi-buy offers in supermarkets, a review of the mandatory code for licensees and small businesses, and a new duty to consider the impact on public health objective of licensing decisions.

The proposals are aimed to combat problem drinking and antisocial behaviour and are not expected to affect the price of drinks in pubs. The Scottish Government is due to introduce minimum pricing in April 2013.

Health professionals have welcomed the proposals, which will primarily affect strong lagers and ciders. However critics, including the alcohol industry, have argued that the move will unfairly affect those whose drinking is not problematic, and effectively punish responsible consumers.

Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said: “The impact at 50p would see two-thirds of prices in supermarkets and off-licences rise, with a bottle of vodka increasing in price from £9 to £13.13.”

He told BBC Radio 4 that the proposals may be illegal under EU law.

The Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHAUK) has welcomed the consultation, but is urging the Government to push the price to 50p per unit of alcohol. This could prevent more than 3,000 alcohol-related deaths and 40,000 crimes in England each year, compared to a 40p price which would prevent 1,190 deaths and 10,100 crimes respectively, it says.

Eric Appleby, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: “We have an opportunity to make an enormous difference to the lives of thousands of people, we must seize it.”

Dr Clare Gerada, chair, Royal College of General Practitioners, called it a “major step forward”, and Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing said: “We want to see robust regulation on the sale of alcohol, including proper minimum unit pricing, to stop this epidemic of binge drinking and alcohol dependency spiralling further.”

Katherine Brown, director of policy at the Institute of Alcohol Studies called for the minimum pricing to be set at “a meaningful level” and Dr Vivienne Nathanson, director of Professional Activities at the BMA commented: “No-one is saying that minimum price alone will solve the alcohol misuse problems but together with other measures, it will help reduce excessive drinking, especially among children.”

Dr Zul Mirza, Alcohol Lead, College of Emergency Medicine added: “It is estimated that at 30p per unit, approximately 300 lives will be saved; at 40p per unit, 1,000 lives and at 50p approximately 3000 lives. The College of Emergency Medicine is therefore strongly supportive of introducing a minimum price of 50p, along with tighter control of licensing.”

Peter Rice, an alcohol addictions specialist and chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland said: “Much attention will be focused on the initial minimum price, but this is a long term policy and a monitoring mechanism built on good data and research will be essential to adjust to a changing market.”

Research suggests that a 10% price rise results in an average 4.4% reduction in alcohol consumption. Minimum pricing could also boost retailers’ profits, however, leading some, including the OFT, to suggest it may even incentivise further marketing of alcohol.

Following the Health Select Committee’s investigation into the Government’s alcohol strategy this summer, chairman Stephen Dorrell MP said: “The Committee supports the decision to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol, but the Government needs to recognise that setting the price is not a one-off event. A transparent process must be put in place in order to ensure that the price level is evidence-based and is monitored over time to assess its effectiveness. We also recommend that there should be a ‘sunset clause’ on the implementation of a minimum price so that it only remains in place if it is shown to be effective in reducing harmful drinking.

“Most people enjoy alcohol without evidence of significant harm to their health, yet it is not possible to define what is a generally safe level of consumption as alcohol affects different people in different ways.”

Public opinion has generally been split on the issue. A major poll of nearly 2,000 adults in 2011 found 47% supporting the principle of minimum pricing, and 44% opposed. Support tended to increase with age, that survey suggested, with people aged 18-24 opposing minimum pricing by 50% to 38%, but those aged 60+ supporting it by 50% to 43%.

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at opinion@nationalhealthexecutive.com

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at opinion@publicsectorexecutive.com  

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