STYLE

Will Minimum Alcohol Prices Save Lives?

24/01/2011 10:31 | Updated 22 May 2015

Finally last week the government unveiled it's much-awaited plans for tackling problem drinking in this country. I sincerely hope nobody was holding their breath.

According to the new rules, anyone selling alcohol will have to abide by a minimum price per unit. This, so the theory goes, will prevent stores such as supermarkets offering massive discounts on booze - which is widely touted as one reason too many people drink too much.

The move has outraged those in favour of minimum alcohol pricing and those against it. In my opinion it's all a bit of a joke. Why? Well for starters the minimum price the government is suggesting for a unit of alcohol is just 21p (that's the cost of duty plus VAT - the cost of producing the alcohol doesn't even come into it).

I'm reliably informed that means the minimum price for a 440ml can of lager will be 38p while a litre of cider will be 40p. Is it just me, or is that laughable? I'd be hard pressed to find a can of Coke or a bottle of water for that price.

As for spirits, the cheapest price for a litre of vodka will be £10.71 and a 700ml bottle of whisky will be £8. The minimum price for a bottle of wine will be - wait for it - £2.

If the government thinks charging a minimum of 40p for a litre of cider will solve the nation's alleged binge-drinking problem - or any problem, for that matter - it is seriously deluding itself.

The truth is the majority of us won't be affected by the minimum pricing anyway. Only the seriously hard-up will be hurt by the lack of ridiculously cheap alcohol. And I suspect those who can't get by without having a drink every day will find a way, even if it means spending less money on essentials like food and clothing (which means their families will suffer more hardship).

Most average-earning drinkers - sensible or otherwise - won't feel any wallet-related pain whatsoever. After all, when did you last see a bottle of organic Australia Shiraz at below £2?

Health experts are up in arms over the move too, saying the new minimum pricing doesn't go far enough and will have little to no impact on the harm alcohol does. They should know. They have to care for the 40,000 people who die from alcohol-related diseases every year in this country.

Some medics have suggested putting up the minimum price to 50p per unit instead of 21p. That would mean a can of lager would cost a minimum of £1 and a bottle of wine £5.

But will increasing the price of booze - even to the doctor-recommended higher level - lead to a decrease in either alcohol-related health problems or crime anyway? I seriously doubt it would make that much of a difference. Pushing the price of alcohol through the roof might do the trick, but no government's going to do that (not if the politicians know what's good for them, that is).

Call me naïve, but shouldn't we be looking at why so many of us feel the need to drink ourselves into oblivion every Friday and Saturday night? What about things like poverty, long-term unemployment and the general feeling of hopelessness that pervade many people's lives - aren't they the issues our politicians should be more concerned about?

Last June, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley was reported as saying: "We need to understand much better the psychology behind why different groups of people drink alcohol in excess. The root causes of social problems lie not just in government policies... but in social norms and peer influence."

I hate to agree with a Tory MP, but he's got a point. What a shame his fellow cabinet ministers haven't listened to him.

How would you solve the alcohol problem?

By: Christine Morgan

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