Alcohol: 45p-a-unit minimum 'ineffective and unfair'
Drinks industry fights back as government plans to ban two-for-one offers and other cheap booze incentives
HOME SECRETARY Theresa May today unveiled a proposal to set a 45p-per-unit minimum price for alcohol in England and Wales in an attempt to reduce alcohol abuse which costs the NHS millions of pounds a year in treatment. One estimate says a bottle of supermarket brand vodka currently priced at £9 would rise to £13.
Ministers also want to ban supermarkets from offering two-for-one deals and similar incentives, though supermarket ready-meal deals which include a bottle or glass of wine might not be subject to minimum pricing.
The plan is popular with doctors, who believe it could save thousands of lives, but the drinks industry is not supportive. Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, which has brought a legal challenge against a proposed 50p-per-unit minimum in Scotland, told The Times he was disappointed.
The government was ignoring advice from ministers and officials that the measures would be "ineffective in tackling alcohol misuse" and would "penalise responsible drinkers and put more pressure on household budgets", said Hewitt.
A spokesman for the British Retail Consortium told the paper: "Most major retailers believe that minimum pricing and controls on promotions are unfair to most customers, because they simply penalise the vast majority of personally responsible drinkers while doing nothing to tackle the roots of irresponsible drinking."
Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wines and Spirits Trade Association, told the Radio 4 Today programme: "Minimum unit pricing will... push up prices for millions of hard-working families who are already feeling the pinch – the busy parent who buys a bottle of wine to relax after a hard week or pensioners enjoying the odd tipple in the evening."
He predicted that the 45p rate could be the thin end of the wedge, suggesting that the minimum price might soon be increased to 50p or more.
Writer Christopher Snowdon told BBC1's Breakfast programme that minimum pricing was not worth trying: "We need to defend low prices – it's an extremely regressive way of looking at life that we need to make things more expensive... It's not going to stop people getting horribly drunk on a Saturday night... the poorest are going to be the hardest hit."
However, speaking on the same programme, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK said: "Minimum unit prices... tackle the heaviest drinkers and the underage vulnerable drinkers – they gravitate to the cheapest drink. It won't affect the price of a pint of beer in a pub or a bottle of wine in a restaurant."