Alcohol Restrictions Proposed By Government Branded As 'Seriously Misguided'

PA/The Huffington Post UK  |  By   |  Posted: 23/03/2012 00:44 Updated: 23/03/2012 08:50

Government plans to introduce a minimum price per unit of alcohol and ban the sale of multi-buy discount deals have been condemned as "seriously misguided".

The criticism was in response to plans announced on Friday by the prime minister, who said he was making "no excuses" for clamping down on England's drinking problem, although he admitted that minimum pricing would not be popular with everyone.

And home secretary Theresa May said the move was designed to tackle "drunken mayhem" in Britain's town and city centers.

"I talk to people who wont go into town centers because of the drunkenness and brawls that happen there," she told the BBC.

The move will undoubtedly face opposition from the drinks industry, with some firms describing it previously as a "regressive measure".

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has also been against tighter regulation of the sector and last year described minimum pricing as an "absurd" tool for tackling drink abuse.

The new Alcohol Strategy is intended to "turn the tide" against irresponsible drinking, which costs the UK an estimated £21 billion a year.

It sets out plans for a minimum unit price for alcohol, possibly 40p, bans the sale of multi-buy discount deals and introduces a "zero tolerance" approach to drunken behaviour in A&E departments.

It also suggests introducing a late-night levy to get pubs and clubs to help pay for policing and improved powers to stop serving alcohol to drunks.

The Government hopes minimum pricing will spell the end of cheap white ciders, spirits and super-strength lagers.

It also believes it could tackle "pre-loading" - when people drink cheap alcohol at home before heading to a pub or nightclub.

Under the plans, buy-one-get-one-free deals could be banned but half-price deals could stay.

The Government intends to consult on the strategy over the summer with a view to introducing legislation as soon as possible.

Mr Cameron told the Press Association: "Binge drinking isn't some fringe issue, it accounts for half of all alcohol consumed in this country.

"The crime and violence it causes drains resources in our hospitals, generates mayhem on our streets and spreads fear in our communities.

"My message is simple. We can't go on like this. We have to tackle the scourge of violence caused by binge drinking. And we have to do it now."

He said the Government would tackle the problem "from every angle", adding: "More powers for pubs to stop serving alcohol to people who are already drunk.

"More powers for hospitals not just to tackle the drunks turning up in A&E - but also the problem clubs that send them there night after night.

"And a real effort to get to grips with the root cause of the problem. And that means coming down hard on cheap alcohol.

"When beer is cheaper than water, it's just too easy for people to get drunk on cheap alcohol at home before they even set foot in the pub.

"So we are going to introduce a new minimum unit price - so for the first time it will be illegal for shops to sell alcohol for less than this set price per unit.

"We're consulting on the actual price, but if it is 40p that could mean 50,000 fewer crimes each year and 9,000 fewer alcohol related deaths over the next decade.

"This isn't about stopping responsible drinking, adding burdens on business or some new kind of stealth tax - it's about fast immediate action where universal change is needed.

"And let's be clear. This will not hurt pubs. A pint is two units. If the minimum price is 40p a unit, it won't affect the price of a pint.

"In fact, pubs may benefit by making the cheap alternatives in supermarkets more expensive.

"Of course, I know this won't be universally popular. But the responsibility of being in Government isn't always about doing the popular thing. It's about doing the right thing.

"Binge drinking is a serious problem. And I make no excuses for clamping down on it."

The announcement from Downing Street came just after Mr Lansley made his own announcement on alcohol, saying firms and retailers who signed up to his responsibility deal have pledged to cut a billion units of alcohol from their drinks.

However, the British Retail Consortium's food director, Andrew Opie, said minimum pricing was effectively a "tax on responsible drinkers".

He added: "David Cameron is seriously misguided. It's simplistic to imagine a minimum price is some sort of silver bullet solution to irresponsible drinking.

"It's a myth to suggest that supermarkets are the problem or that a pub is somehow a safer drinking environment.

"It's retailers not pubs that have led the way on preventing under-age sales, providing unit labelling and funding the Drinkaware campaign.

"And retailers are active, founding participants in the Government's own health responsibly deal."

The prime minister's announcement did win some support though; Eric Appleby, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: "This is a victory for common sense.

"We cannot carry on with a situation where it's cheaper to buy cans of lager than a can of Coke."

Chief Constable Jon Stoddart, the Association of Chief Police Officers' lead on alcohol, said: "Week in, week out in town centres across the country the police have to deal with the consequences of cheap alcohol and irresponsible drinking.

"I welcome the Government's new approach that will help reduce the availability of cheap alcohol, give communities a greater say over licensing in their area and reduce pressure on the police."

Mr Lansley said his responsibility deal announcement could prevent 1,000 alcohol-related deaths a year.

The controversial deal, which has been criticised by leading alcohol charities, will now see 34 companies behind brands like Echo Falls, FirstCape and Heineken offer more lower alcohol drinks and cut the strength of their products.

NHS figures show there were 1.1 million hospital admissions in England relating to alcohol in 2009/10 - 879 more per day than five years previously.

Overall, in the five years to 2009/10, there was a 25% rise in the number of people admitted for reasons that were due to drinking.

In 2010 there were 8,790 alcohol-related deaths in the UK.

The Department of Health said it estimates that removing one billion units from sales will lead to almost 1,000 fewer alcohol-related deaths per year.

Mr Lansley added: "The responsibility deal shows what can be achieved for individuals and families when we work together with industry.

"We know this is an ambitious challenge to work in this way but our successes so far clearly demonstrate it works.

"We will work hard to engage even more businesses and get bigger results."

Andrew Cowan, country director of Diageo GB, said: "Diageo has consistently supported this Government and its predecessors to tackle alcohol misuse and believes measures such as stricter law enforcement in addressing drunk and disorderly behaviour will work.

"However, the intended introduction of pricing intervention is misguided and appears to run counter to the responsibility deal set out by this Government.

"Rather than being a targeted intervention, it simply hits consumers hard, particularly those on low incomes.

"There is no credible evidence from anywhere in the world that it is an effective measure in reducing alcohol-related harm."

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