By Luca Peluzzi
A law to set minimum pricing for alcohol sales was unveiled last Monday by Rebecca Evans, the public health minister. The bill proposes a new 50p-a-unit formula that aims to address health effects of excessive drinking caused by the availability of cheap and strong alcohol.
Heavy-drinkers are the targets of the law, since binge drinking is a significant problem with people of all ages. Statistics said there were 463 alcohol-related deaths in Wales in 2015-16 and 54,000 alcohol-related hospital admissions. Treating these people cost the Welsh NHS £120m every year.
Evans said: “Alcohol-related harm is a significant public health problem in Wales. The 463 alcohol-attributable deaths in 2015 were all avoidable, and each of these deaths would have had a devastating effect on the person’s family and friends. Alcohol-related harm has also had a large impact on public services such as the NHS. There is a very clear and direct link between levels of excessive drinking and the availability of cheap alcohol”
Today alcohol can be bought for as cheaply as 18p per unit and alcohol sold below 50p per unit makes up 72% of the beer sales in Welsh shops and supermarkets, 78% of the cider sales, 42% of the wine and 66% of the spirits. The draft law outlined a 50p per unit, but the exact limit could be higher or lower than this. It has been estimated that with the 50p-a-unit formula, a typical can of cider would cost at least £1, a bottle of wine at least £4.69 and a typical liter of vodka more than £20.
The supporters of this law claim it will have multiple positive effects: it will save the NHS £6.5m annually by decreasing the impact on hospitals and at the same time boost the Welsh economy by £44m a year by reducing workplace absence and crime.
Among who oppose the plan the Welsh Retail Consortium said the minimum price could hit the moderate consumers “whilst not necessarily having the desired impact on problem drinkers”. Moreover, some economists suggest this policy give more profits to large retailer and producers that so can invest the increased revenues in more advertising; on the other hand using taxation instead of price limit could make the government earn more money to invest in the healthcare system and anti-alcohol campaigns.