Minimum alcohol pricing could ‘save 600 lives’

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Setting minimum prices for alcohol would be up to 50 times more effective in tackling alcohol abuse caused by cheap drink than a ban on below cost selling backed by Ministers, experts claim today.

Research by the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group said minimum pricing would have a greater impact particularly among harmful drinkers.

The coalition Government controversially shelved plans for minimum unit pricing last year and instead banned retailers from selling alcohol so cheaply its price is below the cost of the tax payable.

Leading doctors and campaigners accused Ministers of “caving in” to the alcohol industry despite previous support for the move from Prime Minister David Cameron.

Experts at Sheffield University compared the impact on public health of the competing changes.

They estimated below cost selling would increase the price of only 0.7 per cent of units of alcohol sold in England. In contrast, minimum unit pricing of 45p would increase the price of 23.2 per cent of units sold.

In a study published today on thebmj.com, they said below cost selling would reduce harmful drinkers’ average annual consumption by just 0.08 per cent, around three units per year, compared with 3.7 per cent or 137 units per year for a 45p minimum price.

They calculated the ban on below cost selling had a small effect on health, saving an estimated 14 deaths and 500 admissions to hospitals a year.

In contrast, a 45p minimum unit price would be estimated to prevent 624 deaths and 23,700 hospital admissions. Most of the reductions in harm - among them 89 per cent of estimated deaths saved per year - were likely to occur in the 5.3 per cent of people who are harmful drinkers because they buy the greatest share of cheap alcohol.

Health economist Prof Alan Brenann, from the university’s School of Health and Related Research, said: “Despite some study limitations, we found that a minimum unit price of 45p would be expected to have 40-50 times larger reductions in consumption and health harms.”