Home » News » AHA welcomes minimum alcohol unit price consultation and calls for 50 pence per unit

AHA welcomes minimum alcohol unit price consultation and calls for 50 pence per unit

The Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA UK), of which the RCP is a member, today welcomes the publication of the government’s consultation on a minimum unit price for alcohol, and calls for a 50 pence minimum unit price.

Once fully implemented, research suggests that a 50 pence minimum unit price will prevent more than 3,000 alcohol-related deaths and 40,000 crimes in England each year, whereas a 40 pence minimum unit price will prevent 1,190 alcohol-related deaths and prevent 10,100 crimes respectively. For this reason the AHA supports a 50 pence minimum unit price for England and Wales, which would match proposals from the Scottish Government.

The AHA has long campaigned for a minimum unit price for alcohol, and welcomes the government’s proposals to introduce this in England and Wales. Evidence shows that reducing affordability of the cheapest, strongest alcohol will have significant health and social impacts depending on the level that is set. The proposal is also supported by many pub and retail chains.

The consultation, published by Home Office, also covers other aspects of the government’s Alcohol Strategy, including banning multi-buy offers, a review of the mandatory code for licensees and small businesses, and a new duty to consider the impact on public health objective of licensing decisions. While welcoming the new duty, the AHA believes that to be effective, it must be practical to implement and give real power to licensing authorities to block license applications that are deemed a threat to the health and well-being of local communities.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Royal College of Physicians special adviser on alcohol and chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK:

The evidence shows us that heavy drinkers and young drinkers are more affected by higher alcohol prices than moderate drinkers. According to the University of Sheffield, a minimum unit price of 50p would reduce total alcohol consumption by 6.7%, saving around 20,000 hospital admissions in the first-year. Forty pence would not be anywhere near as effective.

Eric Appleby, Chief Executive of Alcohol Concern:

We’re paying a heavy price for alcohol misuse and setting a minimum unit price will help us on the road to changing this. Evidence shows us that setting the unit price at 50p will have most impact on those vulnerable groups we must protect – the young and heavy drinkers. But we cannot cut the misery caused by excessive drinking, whether it’s crime or hospitalisation, through price alone; we need tighter controls around licensing, giving local authorities and police forces all the tools they need to get a firm grip on the way alcohol is being sold in their area. We have an opportunity to make an enormous difference to the lives of thousands of people, we must seize it.

Dr Clare Gerada, Chair, Royal College of General Practitioners:

GPs are not killjoys, we want people to be healthy and enjoy their lives. But every day in our surgeries, we are witnessing the devastating physical and emotional effects that alcohol abuse has on individuals and their families. We also see the enormous financial drain it places on the NHS.

Predictions are that nearly 91,000 people will die over the next ten years as a result of alcohol related deaths, unnecessary deaths that can be prevented if we take the appropriate action now.

Minimum pricing is a major step forward. We hope it will start a chain reaction to encourage pubs and supermarkets to act more responsibly over the sale of alcohol and, in turn, bring about a societal change in attitudes and behaviour so that people will drink less. This will reduce hospital admissions, improve people's physical and mental health, and ultimately save lives.

Dr Peter Carter, Chief Executive and General Secretary, Royal College of Nursing:

Alcohol abuse costs the NHS £3 billion every year and nursing staff witness first-hand the social costs of binge drinking every day. Alcohol abuse causes long term health conditions, increases crime, destroys families and puts A&E staff at risk from violence; all of which are totally unacceptable. As long as alcohol is available at a heavily discounted price these will continue.

 We are glad that the Government recognises the link between cheap alcohol and binge drinking, however it is clear that current regulation is not enough and minimum unit pricing is needed for the industry. We want to see robust regulation on the sale of alcohol, including proper minimum unit pricing, to stop this epidemic of binge drinking and alcohol dependency spiralling further.

Dr J-P van Besouw, President of the Royal College of Anaesthetists:

We fully support a minimum price per unit of alcohol of at least 50p. During some nights on call, and particularly at weekends, over 90% of the patients being anaesthetised in emergency theatres would not be there but for the harmful over-consumption of alcohol. This uses up valuable NHS resources and reduces hospitals capacity to care for other patients with surgical emergencies whose treatment can sometimes be delayed as a consequence.

Katherine Brown, Director of Policy at the Institute of Alcohol Studies:

It is essential that a minimum unit price for alcohol is set at a meaningful level that will reap significant health and social benefits. Heavy, harmful and younger drinkers are proven to be very price sensitive to alcohol, so a 50p MUP promises to make a far greater difference on the number of lives saved and crimes prevented than a 40p MUP, with little impact on moderate drinkers.

The Scottish Government has looked at all the available evidence and decided to set a MUP of 50p north of the border. It is common sense that the level set in England and Wales should be the same in order to avoid cross-border trading which could undermine the efficacy of this policy. We have already seen examples of major retailers circumventing Scottish price restrictions by advertising cheap alcohol from warehouses in the North of England. A uniform approach across the UK will give us the best chance of tackling the burden of harm caused by alcohol, and improving the safety, health and well-being of our communities.

Paul Lincoln, chief executive of the National Heart Forum:

The alarming rise in deaths in England from liver disease reported by the Chief Medical Officer recently underlines the need for a range of measures to curb the harms caused by cheap and readily available alcohol. Excessive alcohol consumption, including binge drinking, is responsible for a large, avoidable burden of cardiovascular disease and cancers in addition to liver disease at huge financial and social cost. Minimum unit pricing - to tackle the cheapest drinks consumed by the most vulnerable drinkers - is a proportionate and well-targeted measure to help reduce this terrible toll of alcohol harm.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, Director of Professional Activities at the BMA

The BMA will back measures that help reduce the human misery linked to excessive drinking as well as the financial cost to society. Alcohol misuse costs the health service billions every year and is also linked to anti-social behaviour and crime. We really hope the government will have the courage to introduce a minimum price per unit of alcohol of at least 50p. No-one is saying that minimum price alone will solve the alcohol misuse problems but together with other measures, it will help reduce excessive drinking, especially among children.

It is not surprising that much of the alcohol industry are opposed to minimum price. Their priority is to sell as many of their products as possible. As health organisations, our priority is to protect health and save lives.

Dr Tom Smith, Chief Executive of the British Society of Gastroenterology:

We urgently need to tackle the upward trend in hospital admissions related to alcohol. A minimum unit price of at least 50p per unit would have the biggest impact in reducing harm to individuals and taking pressure off the NHS. The benefits from such a measure would be quickly seen in reduced admissions. Our members’ gastroenterology wards are full of patients with alcohol-related liver disease so the healthcare of these people must not be forgotten either. At present only 6% of people with an alcohol-related problem in England receive treatment for it. The BSG strongly endorse the nationwide uptake of alcohol care teams and encourages the Government to make provision for improved alcohol health services alongside the introduction of minimum unit pricing. This will have a massive effect on the impact of alcohol and help to address the growing levels of alcohol-related liver disease in this country.

Dr Dominique Florin, Medical Director, Medical Council on Alcohol:

The excess alcohol can damage virtually every system in the body, including the brain, the liver and pancreas and the cardiovascular system, in addition to causing accidents and wider social effects. The Medical Council on Alcohol represents doctors from all medical specialties who daily come into contact with alcohol-related harm in their patients. The Medical Council on Alcohol supports the introduction of a meaningful minimum unit price for alcohol as an evidence-based intervention to reduce alcohol-related harm.

Dr Zul Mirza, Alcohol Lead, College of Emergency Medicine:

Emergency Departments in the UK are inundated with patients presenting with alcohol related problems, not only at weekends but on a daily basis. The London Ambulance Service, receives approximately 60,000 alcohol related 999 calls every year, averaging 164 a day and since 2005, alcohol related calls to the service have risen by 30%. Many patients attend Emergency Departments who themselves have not been drinking but have been assaulted by those who have. It is estimated that at 30 pence per unit, approximately 300 lives will be saved; at 40 pence per unit, 1,000 lives and at 50 pence approximately 3,000 lives. The College of Emergency Medicine is therefore strongly supportive of introducing a minimum price of 50 pence, along with tighter control of licensing.

Professor Mark Bellis, alcohol spokesperson for the Faculty of Public Health:

This consultation firmly establishes that the price of alcohol is a public health issue. The government should be congratulated on taking forward a minimum unit price for alcohol. It is a fair and effective way of tackling the huge health problems and costs that alcohol causes our society. We welcome this consultation and very much hope it leads to a change in the law soon.

Eric Carlin, Director, Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems:

While all parts of the alcohol industry state a commitment to encouraging “responsible drinking” it is clear that the self-regulation approach favoured in the UK has failed. The public health consequences of this mean that there is now a need for increased regulation of this market. The best policy options for regulating the price of alcohol will be those that work most effectively to reduce problem consumption and harm. Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) is such an option. We are pleased that the UK government is now following the Scottish government’s lead in introducing legislation to bring in MUP in England and Wales. We urge the government to set the limit at 50p per unit, in line with Scottish intentions.

Peter Rice, an alcohol addictions specialist and Chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland:

We are delighted the government is proposing a minimum unit price for alcohol in England and Wales, along similar lines to proposals in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Much attention will be focussed on the initial minimum price, but this is a long term policy and a monitoring mechanism built on good data and research will be essential to adjust to a changing market.

Dr Arif Rajpura, lead Director of Public Health on alcohol issues for the North West of England:

A minimum price of at least 50p is a necessary, targeted and proportionate response to a massive problem across the North West of England. The levels of alcohol harm has become unacceptable - damaging families and communities at a tragic personal cost to them, and more than £3 billion a year to our public purse in the North West.

Dr Evelyn Gillan, Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland:

Alcohol Focus Scotland welcomes the coalition government’s plans to introduce minimum unit pricing in England and Wales. The international evidence is crystal clear that without tackling cheap alcohol, the effectiveness of other measures which seek to reduce the burden of harm that alcohol causes to individuals, families, and communities will be limited.

Unfortunately, the introduction of minimum pricing in Scotland has been delayed as global alcohol corporations have used their considerable resources to challenge the measure in court. This is simply big business putting their profits before the public’s health and wellbeing. How many more lives will be damaged by alcohol while the industry pursue their own agenda?

Notes to editors

  • The AHA recognises that there is strong opposition from major alcohol producers to many of the government’s proposals, such as minimum unit pricing, and calls for support in ensuring that public health is prioritised over commercial interests. The Alliance calls on members of the public and civil society organisations to respond to the public consultation on the government’s Alcohol Strategy.

About the Alcohol Health Alliance UK

The Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA) is a group of 32 organisations whose mission is to reduce the damage caused to health by alcohol misuse. The Alcohol Health Alliance works together to:

  • highlight the rising levels of alcohol-related health harm
  • propose evidence-based solutions to reduce this harm
  • influence decision makers to take positive action to address the damage caused by alcohol misuse.