Sharp increases in the price of cheap cider and beer sold in supermarkets are on the cards after David Cameron backed plans for a minimum price of alcohol.
The Prime Minister is expected to overrule other Cabinet ministers, including the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, by ordering that alcohol cannot be sold for less than 40p a unit.
Mr Cameron is convinced that such a move would reduce binge drinking, by narrowing the price gap between supermarkets and pubs. It could result in the cost of strong ciders almost doubling in shops and cheap lager rising by about a third. But there would be less impact on the price of wines and spirits.
The change will be strongly opposed by the drinks industry. Several Cabinet ministers, including Mr Lansley and the Education Secretary Michael Gove, are believed to have opposed the idea. Some fear a backlash from "sensible drinkers", saying the vast majority should not be punished for the irresponsible actions of a relatively small number of binge drinkers. A switch to alcohol price control may be announced by the Chancellor George Osborne in his Budget on 21 March. Detailed proposals may follow in a long-awaited government strategy on alcohol next month, which has been delayed by the Cabinet wrangle over the move.
In December, Mr Lansley warned that the "absurd" idea would not discourage young people from drinking alcohol bought from shops before moving on to pubs and clubs, where drinks would still be more expensive.
But research at the University of Sheffield suggests that a minimum price of 45p per unit could cut hospital admissions by 1,600 a year initially, rising to 6,630 after 10 years. It also found that crime could be reduced by 3,600 offences annually, while 36,500 fewer days off work would be taken each year.
The Wine and Spirit Trade Association said: "The truth is that price is a blunt weapon. People who have a problem with alcohol are the least likely to be deterred by price rises."
A Department for Health spokesman said: "The PM has already said we will look very carefully at the problem of very low cost alcohol."