Lives will be lost as a result of the government’s decision today to abandon the introduction of minimum unit pricing for alcohol, according to doctors’ leaders.

The Alcohol Health Alliance, a body which represents medical organisations and campaigning groups, says putting off a measure which is proven to save lives, cut crime and reduce hospital admissions will do nothing to help an NHS which is buckling under the strain of alcohol misuse.

The Alliance has accused the government of caving in to pressure from global alcohol producers, and trying to ‘fob the public off’ with a series of weak pledges that will have no real impact on the growing levels of alcohol harm in the UK.

Research supporting minimum unit pricing is only getting stronger with findings which are confirmed by real life experience in parts of Canada where experts have shown that a 10% increase in the minimum price resulted in a 32% fall in wholly alcohol related deaths.

Minimum pricing is supported by doctors, children’s charities, pub landlords and the police. However, since promising to introduce this vital policy in its Alcohol Strategy in March 2012, the government has come under significant pressure from the drinks industry to scrap the idea.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK said:

“Today’s announcement confirms that the government has caved in to lobbying from big business and reneged on its commitment to tackle alcohol sold at pocket money prices.

“We know that minimum pricing will work and there is a huge level of support from frontline workers including doctors and the police. Alternative measures outlined in today’s announcement will have little or no impact – they are just a smokescreen to hide how government has turned its back on public health.”


Alternative policies are weak

The Alcohol Health Alliance argues that the evidence to support the measures announced today is scant compared to minimum pricing. It is the key policy from which others hang and without it the government’s Alcohol Strategy is now defunct.

‘Below cost’ sales simply don’t work, they are confusing and nigh on impossible to implement. A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies showed that a ban on sales below the cost of duty + VAT would only have an impact on 1% of all alcohol products sold in shops and supermarkets. In addition, last year Theresa May said that our problems with alcohol are now so acute we need to go further than ‘below cost’.[1]

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, Director of Professional Activities for the British Medical Association, said:

“A ban on sales of alcohol below the cost of duty plus VAT will affect less than 1% of products sold in shops and off-licences. No one can seriously expect voluntary partnerships with the drinks industry to solve our nation’s drinking problem.

“Real-life experience of minimum pricing in Canada has shown some tremendous results – with a 10% increase in the price of cheapest drinks leading to a 32% reduction in wholly alcohol related deaths.

“In ignoring this evidence and not listening to frontline workers, the government is taking a position that will cost lives and do nothing to reduce alcohol related crime and disorder.”


Caving in to industry lobbying

Opposition from the drinks industry to policies outlined in the government’s Alcohol Strategy has been fierce, both at the national level against minimum pricing, but also at a local level with licensing boards reluctant to implement measures such as Early Morning Restriction Orders for fear of legal challenges and associated costs.

Eric Appleby, Chief Executive of Alcohol Concern said:

“The Prime Minister, in his Foreword to the Alcohol Strategy recognized that some policies would be faced with opposition. He said the responsibility of being in government isn’t always about doing the popular thing. It’s about doing the right thing.

“But today’s announcement signals a huge step away from ‘doing the right thing’, as the best chance we had of tackling the problems caused by cheap drink has been kicked into the long grass. Government has simply caved in to industry lobbying.”


Minimum pricing is out, but pubs on motorways are in

In the absence of minimum pricing, we’ve seen the first pub on motorway service areas and it’s likely it will become easier for small businesses such as florists and hairdressers to get an alcohol license.

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

“The government’s Alcohol Strategy has turned into a circus. At a time when our NHS is buckling at the knees, rather than listening to the evidence about how best to reduce the major burden caused by alcohol, we instead get wine in hairdressers and pubs on motorways. It’s just crazy.”

Notes to Editors

The Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) UK brings together organisations whose mission is to reduce the damage caused to health by alcohol misuse. Members include medical bodies, charities and alcohol health campaigners.


Government’s alcohol strategy – what is being done?

Proposed measure What is it? Will it work?
Ban on ‘below cost’ sales A ban on the sale of alcohol below the cost of duty+VAT It’s a complicated and ineffective measure. A recent IFS report showed that this would only impact 1% of all alcohol products sold in shops and supermarkets.
Voluntary local ban on high-strength beers and ciders In Ipswich there is a voluntary agreement amongst retailers, in partnership with the police, local council and NHS to ban the sale of beers and ciders above 6.5% ABV The initiative relies on effective partnerships at the local level, adherence to voluntary commitments, and places responsibility on the retailers.  It also does not cover other alcoholic beverages such as cheap spirits, wines and fortified wines. This cannot be seen as a substitute for nationwide price increases of the cheapest drinks, as retailers who choose not to sign up will simply benefit from the local market share.


EMROs Early Morning Restriction Orders (EMROs) are tools designed to give local authorities power to restrict the sale of alcohol in certain areas between 12am-6am to address problems associated with late night drinking In practice, local authorities are reluctant to introduce EMROs for fear of legal challenges from the drinks industry. The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) have reportedly set up a ‘fighting fund’ to cover the cost of legal challenges against EMROs or LNLs.
Late Night Levies (LNLs) LNLs are designed to give local authorities the power to introduce a levy on licensed premises opening after midnight. The Levy is intended to get providers of late night entertainment to contribute to the costs it imposes on the police. Local authorities are also reportedly reluctant to introduce LNLs both for fear of legal challenge from the drinks industry and the expectation that very little revenue would be raised as a result. To date, only one local authority, Newcastle, has approved or introduced an LNL. Then lack of appeal for Las pursuing LNLs stems from the fact that monies raised would be split 30/70 with 70% going to the police. In addition, local authorities will be told how the money raised can be spent by central government yet the police will have the freedom to decide how to spend their share.


The Home Office response to the consultation on the government’s Alcohol Strategy can be found here.


[1] (column 1071) [accessed 16/07/2013]