The Prime Minister David Cameron is reportedly instructing officials to look at minimum pricing options, the much debated population level policy approach to reducing alcohol-related harm. Although Whitehall officials say no decision has yet been made, a Daily Telegraph report suggests measures could be outlined in the forthcoming national alcohol strategy expected in February 2012.
Cameron is reported to have instructed Whitehall officials to look at options to achieve a minimum price by either tax restructuring or, as currently being sought in Scotland, a standard minimum price per unit. Both could face difficulties under EU law as minimum pricing opponents state it breaches competition law, whilst the IFS recently advised lobbying for EU law changes to achieve tax restructuring for this purpose.
The news is controversial given the voluntary approach championed by the Health Secretary who has recently spoken out against minimum pricing. However Cameron has often appeared keen to take decisive action on the “unbelievably low prices of some drinks”, and appeared to back Manchester’s move towards implementing a minimum price via a local bye-law.
The move would be likely to win widespread praise from health groups who have repeatedly called for minimum pricing, citing evidence of the link between falling prices and rising consumption over the last 30 years. Work by the University of Sheffield has modelled the impact of minimum pricing approaches, suggesting a 50 pence per unit minimum could save 3,000 lives a year.
However opponents, mainly sections of the alcohol industry, retailers or those opposed to such Government intervention, refute the evidence and suggest it would unfairly penalise responsible drinkers – a claim equally rejected by its supporters. Interestingly it is the public’s perception of minimum pricing that many say has prevented Governments supporting it. Despite some possible growing acceptance, polls have suggested around half of adults are still opposed to the measure.