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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 February 2008, 15:10 GMT
Call to halt cheap alcohol offers
Alcohol
The price of alcohol has remained steady for years
The government needs to introduce tougher measures to limit the sale of cheap alcohol, doctors warn.

A British Medical Association report said pricing and promotion of drinks was fuelling an "alcohol epidemic".

It called for an end to happy hours in pubs and cut-price supermarket deals as well as improved access to treatment.

The government is due to carry out research into the issue this year, but Tesco has already indicated it is prepared to discuss pricing.

The BMA report is based on placing greater restrictions on the availability and access to alcohol.

It did not recommend how large the tax hike should be, but pointed out a 10% rise could reduce alcohol-related deaths by nearly 30%.

The report also said the drink drive limit should be reduced from 80mg per 100ml to 50mg per 100ml, which would effectively mean drivers could only consume a small glass of wine or one beer.

The fact of the matter is price is a crucial determinant of how much we drink
Don Shenker, of Alcohol Concern

Alcohol consumption has been rising steadily for the past 15 years, with figures suggesting a third of men and a fifth of women drink more than the recommended levels each week.

Alcohol-related deaths have more than doubled since 1991 to over 8,700 a year.

In contrast, the cost of beer and wine has remained relatively stable, meaning in real terms it has got cheaper as income has increased.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA's head of science, said the government was too close to industry and had to introduce legislation to compel it to act.

PRICE OF A DRINK IN THE UK
Up 14%: Price of beer in a pub from 2001 to 2006
Down 9%: Price of beer from a supermarket or off-licence from 2001 to 2006
Alcohol was 65% more affordable in 2006 than in 1980
Sources: The Information Centre and the Institute for Alcohol Studies

"As doctors we see first-hand how alcohol misuse destroys lives.

"It causes family breakdowns, is a major factor in domestic violence, ruins job prospects and kills."

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA, added: "We are not saying alcohol is all bad - just that it should be drunk in moderation.

"In that sense, it is a much more difficult message to get across than smoking."

He also accused Tesco of being "disingenuous" in its suggestion that government had to act first.

"They cannot absolve themselves of responsibility, but we do welcome their willingness."

Competition law

Lucy Neville-Rolfe, Tesco's executive director for corporate and legal affairs, said action would have to come from the government, but it was willing to enter into discussions.

She said: "We can't put up our prices because people will simply shop elsewhere - it could be commercial suicide - and we can't act together to put up prices because that would be against competition law."

Don Shenker, Alcohol Concern's director of policy and services, said: "Ministers and civil servants are no doubt committed to bringing down alcohol-related harms, but it can sometimes seem from the outside that they're ducking the big choices.

"The fact of the matter is price is a crucial determinant of how much we drink."

But he also said treatment services for dependent drinkers were underfunded.

The government published an alcohol harm reduction strategy in 2004, but it mainly concentrated on improving treatment, raising awareness and enforcing drinking laws.

Last year a follow up report promised to review the "evidence on the relationship between alcohol, price, promotion and harm".

A Department of Health spokesman said: "The research team from the University of Sheffield has been selected and we expect initial findings in the summer."

Graphs showing weekly alcohol consumption in Britain



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Examples of supermarket offers on cheap alcohol



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