Swanswell calls for the government to reconsider the introduction of a minimum unit price following the Chief Medical Officer’s annual report

28 March 2014

Swanswell’s urging the government to reconsider the introduction of a minimum unit price per unit of alcohol to help reduce alcohol harm, after the release of the Chief Medical Officer’s annual report.

The national recovery charity, which wants to achieve a society free from problem alcohol and drug misuse, supports the annual report On the State of the Public’s Health, and is concerned over the highlighted rise in alcohol-related liver disease.

The number of alcohol units consumed per person, per year since the 1950s has more than doubled. There were around 400 alcohol units consumed in the 1950s, increasing to 900 units in 2009.

The increase in alcohol consumption levels is directly contributing to an increase in liver disease, the only major disease increasing in England and decreasing in other European countries. Between 2001 and 2012, 67% of liver disease deaths in England and Wales were alcohol-related. There’s also been a 92% increase in hospital admissions for alcohol-related liver disease, increasing from 25,706 in 2002/03 to 49,456 in 2011/12.

Research suggests a minimum unit price of 45p would reduce alcohol consumption by 4.3%, see 66,000 fewer alcohol-related hospital admissions and lead to 2,000 fewer deaths after ten years.

Although the government plans to ban the sale of alcohol below the cost of duty plus VAT from April 2014, Swanswell believes this will not be as effective as charging a minimum of 45p per unit of alcohol in reducing alcohol-related deaths and crime.

Debbie Bannigan, Swanswell’s Chief Executive, said: ‘The facts in this report are a stark reminder that something needs to be done urgently to tackle liver disease and other deaths caused by alcohol misuse. We need measures like minimum pricing to come in sooner rather than later to help decrease excessive alcohol consumption.

Reports suggest that a below-cost ban is likely to only affect a small number of alcohol sales that are heavily discounted, so there will still be high-strength lagers and ciders available at low cost, which misses the point of what a minimum unit price will achieve.

However, price is only one element that needs to be considered – promotion, place and the product itself should be investigated, alongside better alcohol education and clearer information to help people make informed decisions about how much they’re drinking.

Ultimately, tackling alcohol misuse is not something that any government, organisation or individual can do on their own – we all have a part to play.’

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