Only patients with liver problems who are the heaviest drinkers would be affected by a minimum price for alcohol, experts have said.
Nine out of 10 low-risk drinkers would not be affected at all if the government were to introduce a 50p minimum unit price for alcohol, a study suggests.
Meanwhile, the impact on spending on alcohol would be 200 times higher for patients with liver disease who were drinking at harmful levels than for low-risk drinkers, researchers said.
Experts from the University of Southampton examined 404 liver patients and asked them how much they pay for alcohol.
They found that patients with alcohol-related cirrhosis drank “huge amounts” of cheap alcohol, with a mean weekly consumption of 146 units in men and 142 in women at a median price of 33p per unit.
In addition, low risk drinkers spend around £1.10 per unit, they said.
Their study, published in the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) journal Clinical Medicine, concluded: “As a health policy, a minimum unit price for alcohol is exquisitely targeted at the heaviest drinkers, for whom the impact of alcohol-related illness is most devastating.
“Our research shows that an MUP set at 50p per unit would affect the liver patients killing themselves with cheap alcohol two hundred times more than low risk drinkers”
“As a proportion of annual income, the additional cost of an minimum unit price of 50p would be around £4/year for our patients drinking at low-risk levels, whereas the additional cost for harmful drinkers would be a mean of £1,500/year.”
Professor Nick Sheron, clinical hepatologist at University of Southampton, said: “Setting a minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol is an almost perfect alcohol policy because it targets cheap booze bought by very heavy drinkers and leaves moderate drinkers completely unaffected.
“Our research shows that an MUP set at 50p per unit would affect the liver patients killing themselves with cheap alcohol two hundred times more than low risk drinkers.”
Professor Ian Gilmore, the RCP’s special advisor on alcohol and chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, added: “Once again another robust study has highlighted the possible benefits a minimum unit price could have on those in society who drink most heavily.
“Time and time again it has been shown that those with alcoholic liver disease consume very large quantities of alcohol, and as a result, they purchase the cheapest alcohol, irrespective of their income,” he said.
“The evidence is clear from this study that a minimum unit price would not have a significant effect on low risk drinkers but would target those for whom the impact of alcohol-related liver disease is most devastating,” he added.
“Westminster government has no credible excuse for its lamentable failure to take action on MUP.”
- Read the full study in the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) journal Clinical Medicine