Opponents of minimum pricing of alcohol have criticised Prime Minister David Cameron’s forthcoming speech on the 'scandal' of alcohol abuse in the UK.
On a visit to a hospital in north-east England, Mr Cameron is to call for the drinks industry to do more to tackle a problem which costs the National Health Service £2.7bn a year.
A ban on the sale of alcohol below cost price – less than the tax paid on it – is set to be introduced in England and Wales from 6 April, but ministers are expected to push for a higher minimum price for drink.
Opponents of a minimum unit price say it is unfair because it penalises all drinkers, not just binge or problem drinkers.
Responding to the Prime Minister’s comments, Wine and Spirit Trade Association spokesman Gavin Partington reiterated the drinks indusry’s commitment ‘to helping the Government tackle alcohol misuse, alongside other stakeholders.
‘This is why we are working hard through the Public Health Responsibility Deal on a range of initiatives to promote responsible drinking.’
These initiatives, Partington said, include the expansion of Community Alcohol Partnerships across the UK and a national campaign by retailers to raise consumer awareness about the units of alcohol in alcoholic drinks.
Partington said, ‘Unlike these measures, minimum unit pricing is a blunt tool which would both fail to address the problem of alcohol misuse and punish the vast majority of responsible consumers. As Government ministers acknowledge, it is also probably illegal’.
Decanter is also against the scheme, calling it ‘fundamentally flawed.’
‘The real problem,’ editor Guy Woodward has said, ‘lies with supermarkets who use wine as a loss-leader, slashing margins, bullying suppliers and dragging down prices in order to attract customers…Selling wine at a loss helps neither consumers nor the trade.’
Other opponents of the scheme include the British Beer and Pub Association, which told the BBC there was ‘a danger it would be done through higher taxation, which would be hugely damaging to pub-goers, community pubs and brewers, costing thousands of vital jobs.’
It is thought any move toward minimum pricing could also be illegal under European competition law, which is aimed at pushing down prices for consumers and allowing firms to operate in a free market.
Written by Adam Lechmere