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Minimum Alcohol Pricing: Effective In Saving Lives


Monday, May 18th, 2009 Minimum Alcohol Pricing: Effective In Saving Lives

Rebecca Smith, Medical Editor of the Telegraph (15 05 09) has written two pertinent articles regarding setting a minimum price per unit of alcohol at 50p, which would have the potential in saving up to 3,400 lives per year.

Back in March, in her earlier report (16 03 09) she covers The Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson take on ‘passive drinking’ and its consequences. Moreover Sir Liam says, “the average adult in the UK consumes the equivalent of 120 bottles of wine a year and warned: “The country has a drink problem.”

He said as passive smoking damages others, passive drinking was inflicting untold damage on children whose mothers drink while pregnant, or whose parents drink too much, as well as the 7,000 victims of drink drivers and 39,000 alcohol-related sexual assaults per year.’

At this point, he recommended setting a minimum tariff per unit of alcohol at 50p. Gordon Brown, rejected the idea, arguing that it would punish the moderate drinker. However, the Commons Health Select Committee have said that ‘this argument was ’specious’ and ’selfish’.

In addition, the Chief Medical Officer paints a very bleak picture of the nation as a whole when he says “We are heading for a meltdown as far as the individual health consequences of drinking are concerned and then you have the passive consequences of drinking on top of that.”

Looking more closely at the finer detail, resarchers from Sheffield University said a 50p per unit minimum would add just £12 a year to the drinks bill of the moderate drinker however someone drinking at harmful levels would be forced to pay £163 a year more.

During a speech on tuesday, Gordon Brown has said: ‘We are going to bring in a new mandatory code on the sale of alcohol – not as some have asked bringing in a minimum price, which would punish the majority of responsible drinkers – but to tackle binge drinking, targeting the kind of promotions – like “drink all you can for a fiver” – which can turn some town centres into no-go areas.”

For some, this measure will not go far enough in tackling the nations drinking habits. Furthermore, in the ‘ evidence to the Select Committee, Mike Craik, Chief Constable of Northumbria, Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) Lead for Licensing said he supported a minimum unit price.

“The evidence is clear and unequivocal.”

“It even accommodates the slightly specious and not least selfish argument around punishing the moderate drinker. I don’t quite buy that and that is my personal and professional view not necessarily the ACPO view.”

He goes on to say, “I don’t think drink is reasonably priced in his country for what it is and what harm it does.” Ministers in scotland are considering a minimum tariff per unit of alcohol. Dr Petra Meier, of Sheffield University was commissioned by the Department of Health to evaluate the effect different policies would have on drinking levels and associated harm. Her findings state that minimum pricing would affect supermarkets and off licences more than bars, clubs and restaurants because they tend to sell alcohol at cheaper prices. Dr Meier informed the Health Select Committee the 50p minimum would prevent 3,400 deaths and reduce the number of hospital admissions by 98,000 a year. Fundamentally, she has also argued for different rates for strengths of alcoholic drinks as this would have a direct and posive impact on public health and reduce binge drinking.

Chief Executive of Campaign for Real Ale, Mike Benner, said the organisation was supportive of minimum pricing as it would stop supermarkets from selling alcohol as a loss leader and make drinking in community pubs more attractive.

Finally, a Department of Health spokeswoman said: “The Department of Health commissioned the School of Health and Related Research from the University of Sheffield to carry out an independent review of the evidence on the effects of the pricing and promotion of alcohol. This was published in December 2008.

“The Government has decided not to proceed with any national or local measures around minimum unit price.

“While there is good evidence that cheap alcohol is linked to people drinking more and subsequent harm to their health, it is important that any Government interventions reduce harm without impacting unduly on the majority of responsible drinkers. We will look to develop further the evidence base in this area.”

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