Page last updated at 13:57 GMT, Monday, 28 September 2009 14:57 UK

Alcohol pricing could save 950m

A drunk woman in Bristol
The Scottish government hopes to tackle problems caused by excess alcohol

Charging a minimum price for alcohol could save Scotland £950m over 10 years by reducing the harmful effects of drinking, researchers say.

The Scottish government has published research which indicates the measure would reduce hospital admissions and deaths by 3,600 a year.

A 40p per unit level would cost a moderate drinker £11 extra a year, but a heavy drinker £137 a year, it found.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said it was the "right route" to take.

Ms Sturgeon said the government aimed to "build a consensus" on the issue.

"I believe this research backs up the fact that minimum pricing is a targeted policy," the health secretary told BBC Radio Scotland.

Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon said the government would need to build consensus

"It targets the dangerous drinkers that we want to reduce consumption amongst, but doesn't penalise moderate drinkers.

"Therefore, I think it's the right route to take, but I recognise particularly as a minority government, that the obligation is on us to make the case, to win converts and to build a consensus.

"That's exactly what we intend to do."

Ministers have not yet said what the proposed minimum price will be but 40p per unit has been used as an illustration.

The Sheffield University research was commissioned by the Scottish government and models the effect of different restrictions on the price and sale of alcohol.

The report suggests a 40p minimum could save the country £950m over 10 years and £60m in the first year through reduced absences from work, as well as a cut in the demands on public services such as the police and NHS.

'Significant impact'

It estimates that alcohol-related hospital admissions and deaths would be reduced by 3,600 per year and there would also be a reduction of 1,100 criminal offences.

For a 50p threshold the comparable figures are 8,900 and 4,200.

The report also recognised that even though consumption might fall with minimum pricing, overall spending would go up.

At the 40p threshold consumers would be spending 3.4% more overall - the extra cost to drinkers would depend on how much alcohol they drank.

The academics say a moderate drinker could expect to spend £11 more per year, a hazardous drinker £58 more a year and a harmful drinker £137 more.

Coin dropping in drink
The Sheffield University research was commissioned by Holyrood

Ms Sturgeon said: "The key message of the research is that a policy of minimum pricing, particularly in combination with irresponsible alcohol promotions, would have a significant impact on public health in Scotland."

A similar attempt by the Sheffield academics to cost the benefits of price controls on alcohol was published by the Department of Health in England last year.

The research was severely criticised by the alcohol industry which said it over estimated the benefits while down playing the impact on moderate drinkers.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said measures aimed at changing the culture of drinking would be more effective.

BRC food director Andrew Opie said: "It's wrong to assume that only problem drinkers buy value goods. Minimum pricing simply penalises ordinary shoppers, such as families looking for value, who buy alcohol as part of their weekly shop and consume it responsibly with their family and friends."

In England the chief medical officer for England Sir Liam Donaldson has backed the idea of minimum prices, but ministers signalled they had no intention of pursuing the policy.

In Scotland the SNP has the backing of a coalition of medical groups and charities who see heavy drinking as the next major public health challenge after the ban on smoking in public places.

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