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Minimum unit pricing would ‘save lives’

A minimum price of 45p per unit in the UK would be 50 times more effective in combatting alcohol misuse than current measures, new research claims.

Earlier this year the government introduced a ban on below cost selling which stops retailers from selling alcohol below the cost of duty and VAT.

However according to research carried out by the University of Sheffield and published in the British Medical Journal, this measure is estimated to have had only a “small effect” on reducing alcohol harms saving just 14 lives and preventing 500 admissions to hospital per annum.

By setting a minimum unit price of 45p, the government could expect to see “40-50 times greater effect” in reducing alcohol harms saving an estimated 624 lives and preventing 23,700 hospital admissions.

Much of that reduction is estimated to occur within the 5.3% of the population deemed to be “harmful drinkers”.

And while a ban on below cost selling will reduce harmful drinkers’ annual consumption by 0.08%, or around three units per year, a 45p minimum unit price is expected to reduce consumption by 3.7%, or 137 units per year.

Such a measure would however increase the price of 23.2% of units sold, compared to the current figure of 0.7%.

The Department for Health is currently looking to remove one billion units of alcohol from the UK drinks market by 2015.

A spokesman said: “Alcohol-fuelled harm costs society £21 billion a year and we are determined to reduce this burden to taxpayers. We are taking action to tackle cheap and harmful alcohol such as banning the lowest priced drinks. We are working with industry to promote responsible drinking.”

A minimum alcohol unit price was considered in 2012 but rejected in 2013 on the basis that there was not enough evidence that it would be effective in reducing harm.

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