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'Booze price rise for nation's health'

The government has unveiled plans for minimum alcohol pricing in England. The proposal suggests a minimum price of 40 pence per unit as part of a wider alcohol strategy to curb health problems and crime associated with binge drinking...

The government has unveiled plans for minimum alcohol pricing in England. The proposal suggests a minimum price of 40 pence per unit as part of a wider alcohol strategy to curb health problems and crime associated with binge drinking.

It is estimated that each year alcohol causes over 1 million NHS hospitalisations and 1 million violent crimes in England, primarily through binge drinking. Earlier this week NHS figures revealed that deaths from liver disease had risen by 25% in less than a decade, mainly driven by alcohol.

The price of most drinks would be unaffected by a 40p threshold, although many super-strength and own-brand products could see large price rises: at present some super-strength lagers and ciders contain 4.5 units per can but sell for less than a pound, equating to less than 20p per unit.

Some bottles of ciders could also double in price, as some supermarkets sell them for less than 20p per unit – an equivalent of less than 50p per pint. This is well below the £3-£4 pounds charged in pubs.

The strategy has also called for consultation on multi-buy deals offering cheap alcohol in bulk, as well as a "zero tolerance" approach to dealing with drunken behaviour in A&E departments and new legislation over the licensing of pubs and clubs. The strategy is still at a proposal stage but the government hopes to implement it by 2015.


What is minimum pricing and why is it being proposed?

Minimum pricing per unit of alcohol is when no alcohol is allowed to be sold below a set price per unit. At present, supermarkets and other retailers frequently offer alcohol at discounted prices, with some reportedly offering alcohol at loss-making prices to attract customers. Bringing in a 40p per unit minimum would mostly affect cut-price brands, super-strength drinks and those offered at heavy discounts, but would be unlikely to affect many name brands or drinks in pubs.

What would 40p per unit cost me?

Under the proposals the minimum prices would be:

  • 88p per 440ml can of 5% lager, beer or cider
  • £10.56 for a case of 12 cans (440ml can at 5%)
  • £4 for a two-litre bottle of 5% cider (often sold for around £1.60)
  • £3.60 for a 750ml of 12% wine
  • £11.20 for a 700ml bottle of 40% spirits
  • £1.18 for a pint of 5% beer, lager or cider (well below the price found in most pubs)

The government argues that a minimum price for selling alcohol will reduce heavy drinking, which it says accounts for half of all alcohol consumed in this country and is associated with crime and violence. The prime minister, David Cameron, is reported to have said that a 40p minimum price per unit could mean 50,000 fewer crimes each year and 900 fewer alcohol-related deaths annually by the end of the decade.


What is a unit?

Due to the fact that drinks come in many strengths and sizes, their alcoholic content is expressed in units, which tells you how much pure alcohol a serving contains. One unit is defined as 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol. A drink of alcohol is not the same as a unit: for example, a single pint of premium lager, bitter or cider (5% alcohol by volume) contains about three units.

The recommended maximum limit is two-to-three units a day for a woman and three-to-four units a day for a man. The NHS Choices alcohol unit calculator can help you to find out how many units there are in different types and amounts of alcoholic drinks.


What price is being proposed?

The government has said that it is still consulting on what the minimum price should be, but it has indicated that this could be 40p per unit. A 40p minimum per unit would not affect more expensive wine or a pint of beer bought in a pub. However, the cheaper drinks normally bought from supermarkets and off-licences will be affected, for example:

  • A two-litre bottle of 5% cider currently costing £1.60 from some retailers would increase to £4 minimum.
  • A bottle of cheap 12% strength wine currently costing £3 would increase to £3.60 minimum.

An analysis undertaken by The Guardian found that a minimum price could increase the price of more than one-in-five current supermarket drink deals. Over 20% of the drink deals currently on offer by four major supermarkets were priced below 40p per unit, and therefore would not be permitted under the new legislation.


What health toll does binge drinking currently have?

There’s no denying that binge drinking (usually defined as drinking twice the recommended daily limit on one occasion) is a problem in Britain. The NHS Information Centre reported that in England in 2009, 20% of men surveyed reported binge drinking on at least one day in the past week, as did 13% of women. Binge drinking was highest among the 25-44 age-group for men and the 16-24 age-group for women.

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