The Government faces renewed calls to introduce minimum alcohol pricing, following a report by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) which backs the policy.
In public health guidance which looks at tackling the effects of harmful drinking, Nice said "Making alcohol less affordable is the most effective way of reducing the harm it causes among a population where hazardous drinking is common".
The report recommended a ban on ‘below cost' selling of alcohol, a move which the new coalition Government has already indicated it intends to support, along with a minimum price per unit.
Although the guidance does not set out what it expected the minimum price per unit to be, it said minimum pricing would: "encourage producers to reduce the strength of products. As an example of the effect of minimum pricing, over a 10-year period it is estimated that a 50p minimum price per unit would reduce the cost of alcohol-related problems by £9.7bn."
Nice pointed to evidence which showed that 80% of alcohol is purchased by 30% of the population, suggesting that "the current low pricing policy in supermarkets mainly benefits those drinking at hazardous and harmful levels."
While the price of alcohol has been rising at around the same rate as other consumer products for the past 20 years, incomes have risen much faster, making alcohol 75% more affordable between 1980 and 2008, the report said. Since 1987, beer and wine have become 139% and 124% more affordable respectively when bought from an off-licence.
By Neil Gerrard
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