Minimum alcohol pricing ‘will save 860 lives a year', experts claim

University of Sheffield said there was “no evidence” to support concerns that policy would penalise moderate drinkers

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Fixing the minimum cost of a unit of alcohol at 45p would save hundreds of lives while costing moderate drinkers just 78p extra a year, experts have said.

In a report that leaves the Government’s strategy on harmful drinking in tatters, and raises further questions over the level of influence alcohol lobbyists had on policy, the University of Sheffield said there was “no evidence” to support concerns that minimum pricing would penalise moderate drinkers – the reason the Government gave for dropping the policy last year.

It found that three-quarters of the total reduction in alcohol consumption would be among the 5 per cent of the most serious problem drinkers.

The group who will be hit the hardest will be harmful drinkers on the lowest incomes, who, it is estimated, spend just under £2,700 a year on alcohol, around two-fifths of it on products priced at less than 45p per unit. The alcohol intake of people in this group is predicted to drop by 300 units, or around 150 pints of beer, per year, according to the report, which is published in The Lancet today.

In contrast, moderate drinkers on low incomes, who buy far less alcohol at below 45p per unit, would be predicted to spend on average just 4p more per year if minimum-unit pricing were introduced. Population-wide, the average increase in spending for an individual would be just 78p.

Introducing the policy in England could also cause 860 fewer alcohol-related deaths in a year, and 29,900 fewer hospital admissions.

Sir Ian Gilmore, the chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said: “It is time for the Government to stop listening to the vested interests of the drinks industry and act.”

The report comes just weeks after it emerged that the Government had buried previous evidence, also produced by the University of Sheffield, on the positive impact of minimum-unit pricing. At the Government’s request, the earlier report was published only after a minister had announced the minimum-price policy would be put on hold last year.

A spokesman said that  minimum-unit pricing was  still “under consideration” by the Government.