BIG DEBATE: Is minimum alcohol pricing a good way of tackling binge drinking?

The government has announced plans to introduce minimum pricing on alcohol in an effort to tackle binge drinking. Here, two experts give their arguments for and against the controversial move.

Jackie Turner, GP, who is also chair of the Tower Hamlets British Medical Association

Evidence shows that introducing a minimum price per unit of alcohol decreases overall consumption and saves lives. Last week the government proposed a minimum price of 45p per unit. Experts have shown that a level of 50p would be significantly more effective – saving 3,500 lives per year and cutting overall alcohol consumption by 6.7 per cent.

Cheap alcohol is widely available in supermarkets. Young people say it is cheaper to get drunk than to go to the cinema.

Alcohol causes approximately 30,000-40,000 deaths per year and a million hospital admissions.

Hospital admissions are rising fastest among the 16 to 24-year-old age group, who ‘preload’ with cheap supermarket alcohol before going out at weekends.

The estimated annual economic cost is �20billion-�50billion.

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Almost half of violent crime is related to alcohol and 75-80 per cent of alcohol is consumed by problem drinkers.

They spend 15 times as much on alcohol as moderate drinkers but pay 40 per cent less per litre, choosing cheaper products.

Consequently, contrary to what the alcohol industry would have us believe, fixing a minimum price would affect moderate drinkers far less than problem drinkers.

During the course of my work as a GP, I witness daily the misery that problem drinking causes to the victims and their families.

Measures proven to decrease alcohol consumption are to be welcomed.

Minimum price per unit is evidence-based and should be adopted at the level recommended by health experts.

The government should not succumb to pressure from the drinks industry to set the minimum price too low.

Protestations by the drinks industry that the rights of moderate drinkers are being infringed are disingenuous.

The policy will damage their profits so of course they won’t support it – but turkeys cannot be expected to vote for Christmas.

Miles Beale, chair of the Wine and Spirits Trade Association

It is hard to understand why the government is pushing ahead with the consultation now, when there is a wall of opposition in Europe, a legal challenge in Scotland, a lack of any real evidence to support minimum unit pricing, opposition from consumers and concerns raised from within cabinet itself.

Minimum unit pricing and the proposed restrictions to promotions are wholly untargeted and will unfairly punish millions of consumers and businesses in the UK, while doing nothing to tackle the root causes of alcohol misuse or associated crime and disorder.

We welcome the government’s decision to consult on its alcohol strategy over a 10-week period. This avoids the busiest time of the year for our members and recognises the new and contentious nature of the proposals, in particular promotions restrictions and minimum unit pricing.

Alcohol misuse is a serious and complex problem for a small number of people in this country.

We recognise this and are committed to tackling alcohol misuse – but there is no silver bullet. A range of policies are required to address problem drinking, including improving education and better enforcement.

Minimum unit pricing will punish responsible consumers with higher prices, hitting the poorest hardest and will do nothing to address the causes of alcohol misuse.

Government figures show that progress is being made, with total alcohol consumption, average weekly consumption, and the proportion of people drinking over the recommended weekly limits, all falling since 2005.

There is no evidence that minimum unit pricing will tackle alcohol misuse. International evidence suggests that problem drinkers are the least likely to be deterred by price rises.

There is no compelling evidence linking retailer promotions with alcohol misuse.

Overall levels of alcohol consumption are falling. The drinks industry is committed to tackling alcohol misuse.