Support for minimum alcohol pricing gains strong ally

Support for a minimum price on alcohol is set to gain a powerful ally this week in the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice).

People drinking

Reports suggest that Nice will endorse minimum pricing in a new report on Wednesday as the best way to cut overall consumption, deter underage drinking and limit binge drinking.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown rejected the idea while Labour were in power, while the Conservatives’ manifesto suggested a rise in taxes on those drinks related to anti-social behaviour. The Lib Dems, however, backed the idea of minimum pricing pre-election.

The Con-Lib coalition government has yet to show its hand on minimum pricing, but has identified alcohol problems as one of its priorities with plans to stop alcohol being sold below cost price.

Nice is best-known for advising the NHS on which drugs and other forms of treatment will benefit patients and are worth spending money on. However, it also has status as Whitehall’s primary adviser on which policies are most likely to address health problems: its backing of minimum pricing would therefore be significant.

Much of the medical establishment, including the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Physicians, have been urging the introduction of a minimum price per unit of alcohol.

Earlier this year the cross-party Health Committee called for the price per unit to be set at least 40p- a move which it said would save 1,100 lives every year. Increasing it to 50p would save almost treble that number.

Currently, alcohol can be sold for as little as 10p a unit, which has seen three times as much alcohol drunk per head in Britain compared to the 1950s.

Of the major multiples, only Tesco is in favour of at least discussing minimum pricing. Writing in the Telegraph last month, Tesco chief Sir Terry Leahy said the company would “support any future discussions on a minimum price for alcohol”.

However, most other major retailers , industry bodies, the British Retail Consortium and The Portman Group reject the idea on the ground that it would would unfairly penalise the majority of responsible drinkers.

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