New booze prices plan could ‘improve health’

8:19am Tuesday 1st July 2014

THE introduction of a minimum unit price for alcohol would lead to significant improvements to the health of the population of Wales, public health experts claim.

Research by Public health Wales’ policy, research and development division, led by Professor Mark Bellis, has concluded that a minimum unit price would be an effective way of targeting the heaviest drinkers and other groups particularly at risk from alcohol-related harm.

It also concludes that moderate drinkers would experience relatively little change in the amount they have to pay for alcohol, should the measure be introduced in Wales.

“Minimum unit pricing is based on two principles. Firstly, when the price of alcohol increases, consumption – especially by the heaviest drinkers – goes down. Secondly, when alcohol consumption in a population declines, rates of alcohol related harms also decline, saving lives and reducing pressures on health services,” said Professor Bellis.

“At the moment the estimated cost to the NHS in Wales of alcohol-related harm is £70-85 million a year.

“Alcohol-related admissions to hospital and deaths have increased dramatically in the last decade and so we must look at every tool available to tackle this problem.”

Other measures to reduce alcohol-related harm that are being recommended by Public Health Wales include: all alcohol products carrying a health warning from an independent health regulatory body; restrictions on the sale of alcohol to specific times of the day; a tax on alcohol products proportionate to the volume of alcohol.

It also believes licensing authorities should be empowered to tackle alcohol-related harm by controlling total availability in their areas, and alcohol advertising should be limited to newspapers and other adult press, while content should be limited to factual information.

It is calling too, for the legal limit for blood alcohol concentration for drivers to be reduced, and for existing laws to prohibit the sale of alcohol to individuals who are already heavily intoxicated to be enforced.

The research has been carried out as part of Public Health Wales’ response to the Welsh Government’s consultation on its draft public health white paper.

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