Minimum pricing for alcohol should be introduced in the UK to tackle problem drinking, according to advisory body NICE (the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence).
But the call from the independent NHS organisation was immediately dismissed as ‘totally misguided and probably illegal’ by industry body the Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA).
A minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol would raise the retail price of the cheapest wines to £4-6, depending on alcoholic strength. The cheapest vodka would cost about £13 a bottle, while strong cider would leap in price from £2 to about £7.
NICE said the measure was necessary to halt the spiralling number of alcohol-related deaths in the UK, which has doubled to over 8,000 in the past 16 years.
It believes minimum pricing should be part of a raft of measures, including restrictions on the number of outlets selling alcohol and limited opening times for retailers.
University of Aberdeen health economist Professor Anne Ludbrook, who helped to develop the NICE guidance, said: ‘Alcohol is much more affordable now than it has ever been… When it is sold at a very low price, people often buy and then consume more than they otherwise would have done.’
But Gavin Partington of the WSTA said minimum pricing was ‘probably illegal and won’t stop problem drinkers’.
Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, he dismissed the idea as ‘totally misguided and not borne out by the international evidence’.
‘Logic alone tells you that people who have a problem are going to go to any lengths to get alcohol,’ he added.
‘What we need here really is much more rigorous, early education of people so that they understand the risks.’
Decanter disagrees with the idea of minimum pricing, though it is in favour of other measures such as a ban on loss-leading promotions.
‘Raising the price of wine does not wholly tackle the issue [of problem drinking],’ Decanter editor Guy Woodward argued in the March issue of the magazine.
Other industry leaders to disagree with the measure include M&S chief Sir Stuart Rose.
‘Artificially fixing a base price to stop people drinking wine is insane,’ he told decanter.com in April. ‘As an extreme example, if you go back to 1930s America, prohibition doesn’t work.’
The Scottish parliament is currently planning legislation to introduce minimum pricing north of the border – a move which has been opposed by organisations including the Scotch Whisky Association.
Written by Richard Woodard