The call for a minimum price is part of the Government’s long-awaited alcohol strategy to tackle binge drinking that it claims costs the taxpayer billions each year in related crime and hospital admissions.
Other measures to be introduced include a ban on supermarkets and other retailers offering multi-buy buy one get one free promotions type promotions and a levy on pubs and clubs to help pay for the cost of policing. Greater powers will also be handed to licensees to refuse service to anyone drunk.
Half-price promotions will escape censure, however.
Unveiling the plans, Prime Minister David Cameron says: “Binge drinking isn’t some fringe issue, it accounts for half of all alcohol consumed in this country,” adding: “My message is simple. We can’t go on like this. We have to tackle the scourge of violence caused by binge drinking. And we have to do it now.”
The 40p minimum price is likely to have the biggest impact on heavily discounted ciders, lagers, wines and spirits. The Guardian reports that an Asda deal offering 20 cans of Stella Artois, containing 44 units of alcohol, for £10 would rise to about £17.60 when minimum pricing was applied.
Alcohol producers and retailers argue that a minimum price will have little impact on reducing excessive consumption.
Henry Ashworth, chief executive of The Portman Group, which represents the UK’s nine biggest drinks makers, says it will “penalise the vast majority who drink responsibly”.
He adds that it will also impose an “unfair burden on the businesses” that the government is courting to help pay for public health campaigns.
Several producers, including Guinness maker and Portman Group member Diageo, have signed to the Department of Health’s “responsibility deal”, which sees in-kind marketing support offered to promote responsible consumption of alcohol.
Ashworth adds: “It is vital that these proposals do not undermine this partnership and the good progress that is being made.”
The British Retail Consortium called the Prime Minister’s stance “seriously misguided”.
“It’s simplistic to imagine a minimum price is some sort of silver bullet solution to irresponsible drinking.”
Alcohol charities, however, welcomed the introduction of a minimum price. Alcohol Concern called it a victory for common sense.” We cannot carry on with a situation where it’s cheaper to buy a can of lager than a can of Coke.”
The government argues that minimum pricing will cost the average drinker up to £23 more per year, rising to as much as £135 for heavy drinkers (men drinking more than 50 units and women more than 35).
A consultation is to be launched to consult on the proposals.