Doctors welcome alcohol tax rises

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Doctors today gave their strong backing to increases in alcohol duty announced today in the Budget saying that "tough action" was needed to tackle the culture of binge drinking.

But the rise in duty on beer was attacked by representatives of the brewing industry who said the move would lead to a fall in beer sales and pub closures.

From midnight on Sunday, alcohol duty rates will increase by 6% above the rate of inflation with beer rising by 4p a pint, cider by 3p a litre, wine by 14p a bottle and spirits by 55p a bottle.

Alcohol duties will increase by 2% above the rate of inflation in each of the next four years, Chancellor Alistair Darling announced.

The rise in duty on spirits come after it was frozen last year for the 10th Budget in a row.

Mr Darling said the rises came in the wake of figures showing that in 1997, the average bottle of wine bought in a supermarket was £4.45 in today's prices.

He said in a supermarket today, the average bottle of wine will cost about £4.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, British Medical Association (BMA) head of science and ethics, said tough action was needed to tackle the UK's binge drinking problem.

She said: "It is very important that tax increases on alcohol are part of a larger plan to reduce problem drinking.

"The evidence tells us that the cheaper and more accessible alcohol is the more people will drink.

"The Government needs to tackle this issue so it's good news that ministers have made a start today.

"These tax increases may be unpopular with some members of the public but we hope that they will look at the wider issue and recognise that the UK has a real problem on its hands regarding alcohol misuse."

But Rob Hayward, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) said: "The millions of people who enjoy beer have just been hit by a £50.5 million a month tax raid on their family budgets.

"By aiming a tax hike at beer, the Chancellor is shooting himself in the foot. Treasury revenues will continue to fall, pubs will continue to close and beer sales sink further."

He added that the Government was punishing "all beer drinkers" rather than tackling the "minority" of drunken hooligans.

Lesley King-Lewis, joint chief executive of the organisation Action on Addiction, said she welcomed the increased tax on alcohol.

She said: "In a society where alcohol can be cheaper than water, where is the incentive to cut back on drinking alcohol excessively?

"Research has shown that many young people and dependent drinkers are more likely to binge-drink with cheap and strong alcohol.

"We know these drinkers are just as responsive to price change as moderate drinkers.

"Action on Addiction welcomes the Government's increased tax on alcohol. Measures that encourage us to consume less beverages with alcohol are vital in reducing harm."

Don Shenker, acting chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: "The Government's tax plan to finally address the issue of alcohol becoming more affordable with every passing year is welcome, and overdue.

"There is broad international agreement that price has a crucial part to play in substantially reducing harmful drinking.

"However, for moderate tax hikes to work, Government must also force the big retailers to stop discounting drinks so deeply so that any rate increases can actually be passed on to consumers.

"We call on ministers to use their considerable powers to achieve this. Over the past 20 years, as drinks have become cheaper, consumption has skyrocketed. Urgent action has been long overdue to reverse the tide."