Page last updated at 09:39 GMT, Sunday, 27 September 2009 10:39 UK

Report backs minimum drink prices

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

Scottish government plans to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol have won the backing of an academic report.

Researchers at Sheffield University suggest a price as low as 40p per unit could save hundreds of lives per year, cut crime and improve quality of life.

It would mean wine would have to cost at least £3.60 per bottle and a six-pack of lager £4.80.

Scottish ministers are considering the measure to try to force a "culture change" but no price has been decided.

Critics say evidence from abroad suggests the policy would not work and that it will not address the problems that lead people to drink too much in the first place.

Scotland's rates of alcohol-related crime and health problems are among the worst in the developed world, with many citing cheap drink as a contributory factor.

According to the government-commissioned study, a 40p minimum unit price - coupled with a ban on promotions - would cut the number of alcohol-related deaths by about 70 in its first year.

Nicola Sturgeon
Excessive alcohol consumption is one of the biggest threats to Scottish public health
Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon

After a decade, the policy would save the health service an estimated £160m and lead to about 370 fewer deaths annually.

Setting the minimum at 50p would have an even greater impact, the paper suggests.

The study, which is being published in full on Monday, will also suggest a minimum alcohol price would lead to 30,000 fewer absence days from work a year.

The researchers said the greatest impact of minimum pricing should be on heavy drinkers who tend to buy cheaper, high-strength products such as white cider.

Moderate drinkers will barely be affected at all, the academics say.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: "It's now widely recognised that excessive alcohol consumption across society, fanned by rock-bottom pricing, is one of the biggest threats to Scottish public health."

She added: "But it's clear that to bring about a real, lasting culture change we've got to be bolder. That's why the Scottish Government is bringing forward a radical package of measures in the Alcohol Bill."

Chief medical officer Harry Burns said: "All the evidence suggests that if you want to reduce alcohol-related harm, you need to look at price and availability, which are the key drivers of consumption.

"I've got to admit that initially I was sceptical about minimum pricing but when you look at the facts, it becomes a no-brainer."

'Cycle of deprivation'

Earlier this year, the chief medical officer for England, Sir Liam Donaldson, said such measures would save thousands of lives.

But any plan to introduce minimum pricing would be opposed by Scottish Liberal Democrats and Conservatives.

Lib Dem justice spokesman Robert Brown MSP said: "Minimum pricing won't tackle the cycle of deprivation that often drives people to drinking cheap, high strength alcohol in the first place. Nor will it bring about the cultural change necessary to tackle Scotland's relationship with alcohol."

He said he was concerned about the impact such rules could have on the whisky industry - a concern echoed by Tory deputy leader Murdo Fraser.

Mr Fraser added: "This academic research, commissioned and funded by the SNP Government, flies in the face of evidence from Scandinavia and elsewhere that high prices do not solve alcohol abuse."

If Scotland does go ahead, it will be the first country in Europe to try the policy.

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