A proposal for a minimum price for alcohol has been made by the Chief Medical Officer (CMO). Newspapers have reported that Sir Liam Donaldson, the CMO for England, has recommended that there should be a minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol in England.
Many newspapers reported that the proposal has been met with a “lukewarm response” by the government (BBC News) and that the prime minister has rejected the plan (The Times) .
The CMO recommended in his annual report that the government should introduce a minimum price per unit of alcohol as an immediate priority. He suggests that consideration should be given to setting this minimum price at 50p per unit.
A minimum of 50p per unit would mean that:
In addition to the health and wellbeing of the individual, the ‘second-hand’ effects include:
The CMO says that research shows a clear relationship between price and alcohol consumption. The government-commissioned Independent Review of the Effects of Alcohol Pricing and Promotion by a team at Sheffield University found that increases in prices generally have a greater effect on heavy drinkers’ consumption than on moderate drinkers’ consumption. This is thought to be because people who drink more tend to choose cheaper drinks.
The Scottish government announced their own plans to introduce minimum pricing in Scotland two weeks ago. The proposal did not mention a specific price. It also proposed other measures, including regulations to end drinks promotions in shops.
The Scottish report also cites the Sheffield review as justification for the minimum price proposals.
The proposals are part of the CMO’s 2008 annual report, the opinions and conclusions of which are his own. As noted in the report, the essential function of the CMO is to provide “the highest quality advice, to both the government and the public, on how to improve the nation’s health”.
This advice will be considered by government.
The newspapers have said that the government is concerned that the proposal would mean the majority of people who drink sensibly will be penalised by the actions of a few. The prime minister has stated:
“As we crack down on binge and underage drinking, it’s also right that we take action that is properly targeted and effective. And we do not want the responsible, sensible majority of moderate drinkers to have to pay more or suffer as a result of the excesses of a small minority.”
The Scottish proposals for a minimum price per unit of alcohol could come into effect by the end of the year. How this legislation affects Scotland could guide English policy.