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alcohol health alliance uk

A step in the right direction

Posted 21/05/10

Balance, the North East alcohol office, welcomes the news that retail giant Tesco is backing the introduction of a minimum price for alcohol following feedback from its customers.

Colin Shevills, Director of Balance commented: ”Whilst the pledge to ban below-cost sales of alcohol in England and Wales as announced by the coalition government sounds promising in principle, the reality is that this would be almost impossible to monitor. The introduction of a minimum price linking the price of an alcoholic drink to its strength is the real key to tackling the UK’s serious alcohol problem. It is effective, transparent and easier to police and something we have been strongly campaigning for in the region.”

In the North East, almost a third of men and a quarter of women are misusing alcohol, damaging the health, wealth and wellbeing of families and communities and the region’s alcohol specific hospital admissions are up to 60% higher than the national average.

Colin said: “Cheap alcohol is fuelling the North East’s problem with drink, not only in terms of health harms to the individual themselves but also in terms of second hand harms to others with alcohol being the primary instigator in domestic abuse and violent crime.”

Jon Stoddart, Chief Constable of Durham Constabulary and National Alcohol Spokesperson for the Association of Chief Police Officers added: ”While illegal drugs tend to get all the headlines, the issue of alcohol misuse presents us with serious problems right across the whole spectrum of criminality, ranging from minor nuisance, disorder, violence and damage up to rape, organised crime and murder. The British Crime Survey shows that 46% of all violent crime is alcohol related. We need to get to the root of this problem.

“Information, education and individual responsibility are clearly all part of tackling the alcohol related issues, but you cannot ignore the clear link between alcohol price and consumption. There is a clear need to address the widespread availability of cheap alcohol.”

Earlier this year Balance published a North East price survey report Selling Alcohol at Pocket Money Prices which investigated how cheaply supermarkets and off licences are selling strong alcohol.

As part of a worrying trend for super-low prices, the report revealed that a two-litre bottle of cider is available from three of the big four supermarkets for £1.21, or just 14p per unit of alcohol, and it can be found at an even cheaper price at the region’s discount outlets.

Across the North East, lager is being sold at 22p a can, a 70cl bottle of vodka for as little as £6.98 and cans of super strength lager and industrial white cider, which contain the daily safe alcohol limit for an adult male, for less than a loaf of bread.

A minimum price is about ensuring alcohol is not available for pocket money prices. It will have greatest effect on strong, cheap alcohol. For instance, the introduction of a minimum price of 50p per unit as recommended by the Government’s Chief Medical Officer would have the following impact: An own brand 3 litre bottle of strong cider with an alcohol unit content of 15.9 currently available at £2.73 would increase to £7.95; an own brand bottle of vodka with an alcohol unit content of 28 currently available at £6.41 would increase to £14.00. However, a bottle of wine with an alcohol content of 10.1 available at £5.93 would not increase, nor would a pint of lager bought from a local pub.*

The introduction of a minimum price is further supported by research carried out by the University of Sheffield which shows that a minimum price of 50p per unit would cut consumption and consequentially deaths, crimes and hospital admissions and reduce the economic burden. It also suggests that if a minimum price of 40p a unit was introduced, moderate drinkers would only be estimated to spend an extra 21p per week on alcohol.

Colin concluded: “The news from Tesco shows that even the customers themselves are aware and worried about excessive drinking and the anti-social behaviour it causes. This is an issue that isn’t going to go away and if anything will continue to get worse. The backing from Tesco is just the first step we need in introducing a minimum price. We now need all the other major supermarket chains to stand up and be counted on this issue but most importantly it needs the backing of the Government to really tackle Britain’s alcohol problems.”