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Put a minimum price on alcohol, says UK health body

Senior health advisers in England have used the beginning of Christmas party season to call for higher prices on wine, beer and spirits via a minimum pricing law.

Alcohol is too cheap and it is damaging people’s health to unacceptable levels, according to Public Health England.

It called on the government to re-consider a minimum pricing plan for wine, beer and spirits, and it said that a current ban on selling alcohol below cost price plus VAT was not severe enough.

Minimum pricing has returned to the public spotlight in recent weeks.

European winemakers have joined with Scotch whisky distillers to challenge Scotland’s plan to introduce a floor price of 50 pence per unit of alcohol on all drinks. The case was set to be heard in the UK’s Supreme Court.

The previous UK government in Westminster rejected the idea of minimum pricing in 2013, and many in the drinks trade argued that the policy would do little to affect consumption.

But Public Health England urged ministers to re-consider.

Overall consumption of alcohol may have fallen since 2008, but liver disease has increased by 400% since 1970, says its new report on the public health burden of alcohol.

Alcohol-related illness is costing the country’s economy between 1.3% and 2.7% of GDP, the report says.

The group rejected the drinks industry argument that minimum pricing would be a blunt tool that would hurt responsible drinkers as well as those drinking to excess.

‘The MUP measure has a negligible impact on moderate drinkers and the [pub and restaurant] trade,’ it said.

The drinks industry-backed Alcohol Information Partnership said, ‘Minimum unit pricing is an untested policy built on modelling and forecasting. The evidence behind its claims is poor and controversial.’

The UK government tightened its advice to drinkers this year, warning that no one should consume more than 14 units of alcohol per week.

There has been little sign this year that the government is keen to shift its stance on pricing. Such a policy might also prove difficult given the current concerns over rising consumer prices in the wake of the Brexit vote.

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