"The British Medical Association is not a killjoy," declared Sir Charles George, chairman of its board of science, at the launch of a package of proposals amounting to the most draconian assault on beer, wine and spirit drinkers in a generation.
As Tesco became the first of the leading supermarkets to break ranks with its rivals by calling on the Government to ban the sale of cut-price alcohol, the BMA said yesterday that the country was in the grip of an epidemic of alcohol misuse which successive governments had failed to address.
In a report spelling out the harm caused by excessive drinking, the association demanded swingeing increases in the tax on alcoholic drinks, a cut in licensing hours, and a sharp reduction in the number of licensed premises – both off licences and bars and pubs.
Two-for-one offers, happy hours and similar promotional activities should be banned, and a statutory code of practice on the marketing of alcohol introduced.
The report also calls for a reduction in the drink- driving limit from the current 80 mgs per 100 mls of blood to 50 mgs. This is in line with most other European countries but would limit drivers to "one small pub measure".
Sir Charles said it was recognised that alcohol had been consumed for hundreds of years and had brought pleasure and some health benefits to generations of drinkers. "But when it is misused it causes harm," he said. The level of harm had risen dramatically with rising consumption.
Asked if the association's demands amounted to an assault on the majority who used alcohol responsibly to protect the minority who used it irresponsibly, Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA's head of science and ethics, said: "It is a public health issue – 30 to 40 per cent of young people are shortening their lives because of alcohol. Perhaps if we draw attention to the fact that we have a public health emergency then people might contemplate paying more."
Tesco said yesterday it would back legislation to outlaw price cutting on alcohol. Lucy Neville Rolfe, director of legal affairs, said: "We can't put up our prices because... that would be commercial suicide, and we can't act together to put up prices because that would be against competition law."
Dawn Primarolo, the public health minister, said the Government had commissioned an independent review of alcohol pricing and promotion and its impact on harmful drinking.
Jeremy Beadles, the chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade association, said: "Raising tax on drink punishes us all for the sins of the few."
* Raise tax on alcohol above inflation, proportionate to the amount of alcohol in the product.
* Reduce licensing hours and the number of licensed premises.
* Ban irresponsible promotions such as 2-for-1 deals and happy hours.
* Set minimum prices for the sale of alcoholic drinks.
* Ban alcohol adverts before 9pm on TV and in cinemas showing under-18 films.
* Reduce drink-driving limit from 80mg alcohol per 100ml blood to 50mg.
* Ban alcohol industry sponsorship of sporting and music events for young people.
* Warning labels stating alcohol content of products, plus guideline amounts.