Page last updated at 08:33 GMT, Sunday, 4 January 2009

Health group angered by 99p pint

Man drinking pint
Beer prices are going back to levels not seen since the 1980s

A pub chain is cutting the price of a pint to 99p to cheer cash-strapped drinkers - but the move has sparked criticism from an alcohol charity.

JD Wetherspoon, which operates 713 pubs across the UK, is offering "indefinite" reductions on some beer, bottled lager, wine and spirits, plus 2.99 meals.

Health campaigners fear other pub chains could follow.

Alcohol Concern says pricing drinks at 1989 levels could cause more people to drink too much and end up in hospital.

Nicolay Sorensen, from the charity, said prices across the industry were already 65% lower in real terms than in 1980.

"The number of alcohol-related hospital admissions is continuing to rise at an astonishing rate," he said, adding that treating drink-related illnesses costs the NHS 2.7bn per year.

He said that by selling beer at 99p per pint, pubs were not acting responsibly.

We are trying to stay in business, keep jobs in our sector and compete in a very competitive market
Mark Hastings
British Beer and Pub Association

"The drinks industry isn't able to regulate itself responsibly and it's for the government to take action."

But Mark Hastings, of the British Beer and Pub Association, said the 99p pint only applied to one brand of beer - Greene King IPA - in one chain of bars.

Customers could stay at home and drink beer from supermarkets much more cheaply, whereas pubs offered a more responsible environment, he said.

"We are trying to stay in business, keep jobs in our sector and compete in a very competitive market," said Mr Hastings.

He said that with pubs closing at a rate of five per day, the sector had already lost 44,000 jobs.

Wetherspoon's chief executive John Hutson said the company was helping people in the face of the economic downturn.

"We believe that our new food and drink prices will allow people to enjoy a visit to a Wetherspoon pub without it costing them too much," he said.

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