Writing on bmj.com, IAS Director Katherine Brown says that the UK chancellor should resist industry lobbying to scrap the annual rise in alcohol duty because “society simply can’t afford for such cheap drink to get cheaper”.

The duty escalator has been in place since 2008 to ensure that the price of alcohol rises at 2% above inflation. But after abolishing the escalator for beer duty last year following a high profile campaign from the brewing sector, the wine and spirits industry is calling on Chancellor George Osborne to do the same for all alcoholic beverages ahead of next week’s budget.

Each year the UK is faced with more than 8,700 alcohol related deaths, and 1.2 million hospital admissions, with alcohol estimated to cost society more than £21 billion – more than double the £10 billion revenue generated from alcohol taxes.

Evidence suggests that reducing the affordability of alcohol is the most powerful tool at a government’s disposal to tackle the problems associated with alcohol, yet alcohol remains 61% more affordable today than in 1980 as real household disposable incomes have risen considerably more than alcohol prices.

If the Chancellor succumbs to current industry pressures and scraps the planned duty escalator for all alcohol in this year’s budget, it is estimated that the cost to the Exchequer would be £110 million in 2014/15, Brown writes. “This sum could fund 2,587 alcohol nurses in A&E, 468,085 ambulance call-outs, or over 723,684 days of in-patient detoxification services.”

Reneging on yet another government commitment to tackle the affordability of alcohol, and at the same time depriving the public purse of millions of pounds “would be a gross injustice to British society and to our public services that are struggling to cope with the burden alcohol poses day in day out,” she argues.

The article, titled “The UK chancellor should resist industry lobbying to scrap annual rise in alcohol duty” is available to read on the BMJ website.