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Government too close to drinks industry

After nearly a year's investigation, the health select committee has called for a radical overhaul of alcohol policy in the UK.

The Committee found that the drinks industry and supermarkets have a significant influence over government alcohol policy. They call for the government to pay more attention to health experts, pointing to the substantial in increasing health harms resulting from alcohol, and the cost to the taxpayer of treating this.

Particular criticism was levelled at supermarkets' aggressive discounting of alcoholic drinks: "Heavily discounted and readily available alcohol has fuelled underage drinking, led to the phenomenon pre-loading where young people drink at home before they go out and encouraged harmful drinking by older people... In some cases, it is possible to buy alcohol for as little as 10p per unit... This is not a responsible approach to the sale of alcohol."

The Committee has challenged the government to introduce a minimum price for alcohol, backing calls made by the Chief Medical Officer last year. The report flatly rejects as a myth the suggestion that minimum pricing would unfairly affect moderate drinkers, pointing out that the average moderate drinker (6 units per week) would pay only 11p a week more with a 40p a unit minimum price. Even drinking at the upper limits of government guidelines, a woman could buy 14 units per week for a minimum of just £5.60 and a man could buy 21 units a week for a minimum of £8.40.

As with other price policies, the effect of a minimum price is proportional to the amount consumed; the more you drink, the more you pay. By definition, heavy drinkers are affected more than moderate drinkers. In addition, the way that the minimum price is calculated means that it specifically targets cheap, strong drinks, as chosen by those who treat alcohol as a drug, i.e. those who drink to get drunk. Those who simply fancy a beer could chose a lower strength option which would have a lower minimum price.

The full report is available here, (pdf 776kb).