Public opinion is sceptical that the Government's controversial plans to introduce a minimum price for alcohol of at least 40p a unit, is likely to bring about an immediate drop in alcohol consumption, new research has suggested.

Doubts exist that the proposed move will be "effective" in cutting alcohol use, a focus group study published in the journal BMC Public Health concluded.

An analysis of the views of 28 focus groups, involving 218 people from across different community groups, identified scepticism of minimum pricing as an effective means to lower "harmful" alcohol consumption.

It pinpointed a "dislike" of the policy, including perceptions it "punished" the moderate drinker, as well as concern the policy might worsen existing social problems.

The study said: "There was a general perception that the policy was aimed at "problem" and underage drinkers.

Participants expressed some qualified support for the policy, but stated that it would only work as part of a wider campaign including other educational elements."

It concluded: "There was little evidence to suggest that people would support the introduction of a minimum price per unit of alcohol policy. Scepticism about the effectiveness of the policy is likely to represent the most significant barrier to public support.

"Findings also suggest that clearer educational messages are needed to dispel misconceptions regarding the effectiveness of the policy and the introduction of the policy as part of a package of government initiatives to address excess alcohol consumption might be the best way to advance support for the policy."

A consultation on the proposals, which are intended to tackle anti-social binge drinking and reduce alcohol-related illness, is expected to be launched within days.

The plans polarise opinion, with health campaigners backing the move and drinks companies warning that it will "unfairly punish" millions of people, and there are signs of divisions between ministers.

The Government announced in March that it intended to introduce a minimum price but the consultation has been beset by delays. There are fears that the move may break EU laws.

Although ministers have spoken of 40p a unit, it is unclear whether this week's publication will even propose a level for the minimum price to be set at. Some supporters of the move are calling for a minimum price as high as 50p.

As well as a minimum price per unit, ministers are planning tough curbs on multi-buy discounts which could affect people who, for example, buy wine by boxes of six.

The Prime Minister is thought to be personally committed to the idea and argued this year that a 40p minimum unit price could result in 50,000 fewer crimes a year and 900 fewer alcohol-related deaths per year by the end of the decade.

"Binge-drinking isn't some fringe issue, it accounts for half of all alcohol consumed in this country," he said in March.

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

But Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said: "This latest research makes clear that consumers are opposed to minimum unit pricing. They believe that it will punish the responsible majority whilst doing nothing to tackle alcohol misuse and fear it could exacerbate existing social problems.

"David Cameron is facing a backlash from Cabinet and Europe about this policy, legal action in Scotland and now consumers are saying they don't like it either. It raises serious questions about who he is listening to and why he is pushing ahead with it."