A minimum charge of 50p per unit of alcohol could save 50 lives a year according to a new proposal by the Welsh government.
Research also suggests that this could also save nearly £900m over 20 years by cutting alcohol related crime and illnesses.
Ministers said they were committed to the lives of people in Wales and would use their powers to ‘improve and protect’ their health. Deputy Minister for health Vaughan Gething said a minimum unit price could help save lives by tackling the impact on health and society of drinking too much alcohol.
The draft bill, if passed, would make it an offence for alcohol to be sold or supplied below the minimum price, which would be kept under review.
Many organisations such as the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), oppose a possible introduction of the bill. Their chief executive Miles Beal said the measure would unfairly ramp up the cost of more than half of the drinks on supermarket shelves and hit Welsh drinkers with a £55m increase on their drinking habits.
He explained that the measure would do “nothing to tackle alcohol harm. It is entirely wrong that responsible consumers in Wales should be punished for the actions of an irresponsible few.
“The substantial cost of implementation and enforcement, as well as the risk of losing shoppers across the border, is likely to hit Welsh businesses and jobs and the UK Treasury is set to lose out in £11m in revenues directly.”
Another group that opposed the bill is the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) whose chief executive Brigid Simmonds regards the use of pricing and taxation to tackle alcohol related harm as ‘blunt tools’ and risk penalising responsible consumers and those on low incomes.
He added: “We have supported the UK government policy of a ban on below cost selling and we strongly support policies and initiatives targeted at the minority of those who misuse alcohol. This is the best way to reduce alcohol harm.”
Drug and Alcohol charity Cais were astonished the minimum of 50p per unit had not been put into place sooner. Their executive Clive Wolfendale said: “Part of the answer for me is around the pricing strategy. It’s long overdue and there’s a huge weight of evidence that it can have an impact. People are stopping smoking because there’s clear recognition of the health risks and because they have become so expensive.”
However, he could see how it was not a policy that would cure the problem outright saying: “Some clients say they don’t care how much it costs, they will get it. Someone with a long term problem will beg and steal.
“But we can dissuade the student binge drinkers of today from turning into tomorrow’s addicts with higher prices and [better] health education.”
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