Raising the price of ultra-cheap lager, gin and vodka will save more than 1,000 lives each year, according to new research today.
In an article on bmj.com, John Appleby, chief economist at the King’s Fund, calculated that the Coalition's proposal to set a minimum price of 40p per unit of alcohol would substantially cut hospital admissions and alcohol-related deaths.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, last month over-ruled his Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, some Tory backbenchers and the drinks industry to back the measure, saying the country could no longer tolerate “binge drinking.” He said: “The crime and violence it causes drains resources in our hospitals, generates mayhem on our streets and spreads fear in our communities."
Research suggests that setting a 40p minimum price would push up the price of around one in 10 alcoholic drinks on supermarket shelves, particularly cheap strong cider, lager, gin, vodka and whisky. With the slow decline of pubs, around 80 per cent of alcohol consumed is now bought from shops and supermarkets have been accused of running irresponsible promotions to attract shoppers.
In the research, Mr Appleby calculated that a 40p minimum price would lead to 1,149 fewer deaths and 38,900 fewer hospital admissions – while a 50p minimum price would double those benefits.
Alcohol was much more affordable now than it was 30 years ago, he said, apart, from brief periods coinciding with economic recessions and lower disposable incomes; as a result, between 2002 and 2010 the number of alcohol-related hospital admissions in England doubled to 265,000 a year.
While the drinks industry has argued that minimum pricing will do nothing to tackle a culture of binge drinking, doctors, senior police officers and academics strongly support the policy.
Giving evidence to the Commons Health Select Committee yesterday, Professor Alan Brennan, of Sheffield University, said: “The evidence is absolutely completely overwhelming that if you increase prices people drink less alcohol. If you ask people in the street they’re not convinced but if you look at the evidence, all the studies show that when prices increase people reduce their consumption.”
The “hardest drinkers” were hit hardest by minimum pricing, Professor Brennan said, because half the units of alcohol bought by problem drinkers of all social classes cost less than 50p a unit.