Page last updated at 11:32 GMT, Monday, 23 November 2009

'Minimum price' demand on alcohol

Young man lying in a street
There is growing concern about alcohol consumption in Wales

The availability of cheap alcohol has led to calls for minimum prices in Wales to change the drinking culture.

Brian Gibbons, Wales' social affairs minister, says he wants to see alcohol strength taken into account in pricing.

Scottish ministers are preparing laws on minimum pricing, and Dr Gibbons has discussed the issue with them, although he currently lacks legislative powers.

He told BBC Radio's Eye on Wales that someone could drink more than their "desired daily intake" for under £1.

Four years since 24-hour licensing began in Wales and England, some experts say hopes have failed of reform via more relaxed laws.

Experts warn that the availability of cheap alcohol in supermarkets and other stores, cut-price promotions and marketing techniques are contributing to increasing consumption of alcohol in Wales.

A recent survey suggested 1,000 people in Wales die each year from causes attributed to alcohol, with drink a factor in more than one in 25 male deaths.

Habits of drinking in this country and attitudes to alcohol have not changed, even though the licensing hours have changed
Andrew Misell, Alcohol Concern Cymru

Speaking on BBC Radio Wales' Eye on Wales programme, Andrew Misell, policy manager for Alcohol Concern Cymru, said: "Habits of drinking in this country and attitudes to alcohol have not changed, even though the licensing hours have changed.

"Consumption in this country is gradually creeping up. The other discernable trend… is that the price of alcohol relative to income is dropping, so we know that alcohol is cheaper relative to what we're earning and that we're drinking more of it.

"The other pattern… is that the number of deaths from alcohol are going up."

The three Welsh Labour leadership contenders recently called for tough action against Wales' drinking culture, referring to anecdotal evidence of certain types of alcohol selling at 11p a unit in some areas, and concerns about licensing issues and availability.

The Scottish Government is preparing to introduce new legislation on the minimum pricing of alcohol.

Scotland will also look at other measures addressing cut-price promotions and the marketing and advertising of alcohol in superstores and other licensed premises.

While the assembly has no powers to legislate on this currently, Dr Gibbons has visited Scotland to discuss the plans.

Alcohol strength

He said: "It's seriously of concern to me that a person can consume more than their desired daily intake of alcohol for less than £1.

"We do need to be looking at the pricing structure, which at times does encourage people to drink the strongest alcohol with the most deleterious effect.

"So we would like minimum pricing, a taxation structure related to the alcohol strength. We will have the experience of Scotland to work from, so we won't have to reinvent the wheel, possibly, in this regard."

But the retail trade rejects suggestions that price and availability is fuelling alcohol problems, claiming that education and awareness are the way forward.

Richard Dodd, spokesman for the British Retail Consortium, said: "It's a tiny, tiny minority of people who drink irresponsibly.

"Irresponsible drinking is a cultural issue, it's about our attitudes to alcohol, about the way we've been brought up with it, and it will be addressed most effectively through education and not through rules about prices and promotions."

Eye on Wales, BBC Radio Wales, Monday 23 November, 1830 GMT.



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