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Apr 18

A Price Worth Paying?

A new report published in the BMJ today claims that plans to introduce minimum prices for alcohol in the UK “will save more than 1,000 lives per year”.

The report’s author, John Appleby, Chief Economist at the Kings Fund, says that Government proposals to implement a minimum price of 40p per unit of alcohol would reduce alcohol-related deaths by 1,149 and would see 38,900 fewer hospital admissions.

This is against a backdrop where alcohol-related hospital admissions have doubled in England from 2002 to 2010, to around 265,000 each year.

Minimum alcohol price will save livesThe amount we drink as a nation is largely determined by price and disposable income, and although there is evidence to show that consumption falls during periods of economic recession, spending on alcohol in the UK has consistently increased in real terms – more than doubling between 1964 and 2004.

It increased again slightly in 2010, to a total of £42.1 billion – a third of the amount spent on the NHS each year.

This means that everyone in the UK aged 18 and over spends on average around £17 a week on alcohol.

Mr Appleby said that plans for a minimum price on alcohol would lead to cut in alcohol consumption by 2.4%.

A 50p minimum price would more than double all these effects, he added, whilst the current economic recession will also have an impact on reducing demand.

But do these figures suggest a problem with drinking in the UK, asks Appleby? Hospital admissions data suggest they do, although given the lag in reported health data it remains to be seen whether the latest Government initiative on pricing will have any significant impact on these numbers.

Critics of the plans claim that it will be the sensible, moderate drinkers who will be impacted by this price hike, and that the heavy or problem drinkers will continue to drink regardless, with the only potential impact being that they switch the type of alcohol they currently drink.

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