Trade slams gov't minimum pricing plan

08 January, 2010

UK: The Health Select Committee has called for a minimum price on alcohol.

In a report published today (January 8) the committee presented research that suggested placing a minimum price per unit on alcohol would save lives.

The report read: “Increasing the price of alcohol is thus the most powerful tool at the disposal of a Government. The key argument made by the drinks industry and others opposed to a rise in price is that it would be unfair on moderate drinkers. We do not think this is a serious argument.”

The committee said the minimum price would affect most of all those who drink cheap alcohol, in particular young binge-drinkers and heavy low income drinkers who suffer most from liver disease.

The report continued: “It is estimated that a minimum price of 50p per unit would save over 3,000 lives per year, of 40p 1,100 lives per year.

“Unlike rises in duty (which could be absorbed by the supermarkets' suppliers and which affect all sellers of alcohol) it would benefit traditional pubs and discourage pre-loading.”

The report also proposed tighter restrictions on alcohol advertising.

Wine and Spirit Trade association chief executive Jeremy Beadles challenged the findings. He said: “There are no surprises here. This Select Committee report is just part of the concerted campaign by elements of the health lobby for a range of policies which will punish millions of hard-working people while doing nothing to tackle the problem few.

“The truth is that a minimum price of 50p or tax rises would force prices up for responsible consumers while proposed advertising restrictions amount to an effective ban which would put jobs at risk in the media and advertising industries.

“Government statistics show that 7% of the population drink 33% of the alcohol in the UK. On that basis we should be focusing our efforts on tackling problem drinkers rather than punishing the many.

“What’s needed is tough action against those who misuse alcohol with help for those who have a genuine health problem and mandatory school education about alcohol so that people understand the risks.

“The drinks industry is working in partnership with local authorities and others to combat underage purchase and possession of alcohol and investing in Government endorsed campaigns to persuade consumers to change their behaviour.

“Let’s focus our efforts on policies which make a difference rather than pursue a mantra of price rises and bans which will not address the root causes of alcohol misuse.”

Edwin Atkinson, director general of the Gin & Vodka Association (GVA), added: “We recognise and share the Committee’s desire to tackle alcohol misuse. The GVA is committed to working in partnership with Government and other stakeholders to tackle alcohol misuse. But the Committee’s calls for minimum pricing are ill-founded as solutions to the harmful use of alcohol. Price is a blunt, inappropriate and ineffective instrument to deal with alcohol misuse.

“It is wrong to assume that an increase in price at the bottom of the price range will affect those who misuse alcohol beverages. International evidence suggests that those who misuse alcohol are least likely to change their behaviour because of price changes.

“The Committee’s proposal to increase taxation on spirits as a solution to harmful drinking is similarly surprising, given that spirits represented only 12% of male and only 16% of female alcohol consumption in England in 2008.

“There is already in place a robust regulatory framework to tackle alcohol misuse. It should be used effectively.”