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Calls for minimum alcohol price

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Minimum pricing for alcoholic drinks, mandatory health warnings on labels and a rise in tax on spirits should be introduced to stem a “shocking” rise in alcohol misuse in England, an MPs’ report has said.

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The scathing report from the House of Commons health committee accused the government of a “failure of will and competence” over alcohol policy and said ministers were too close to drinks companies and supermarkets.

The alcohol industry depends for three-quarters of its sales on people drinking at levels deemed hazardous or harmful and holds more power over government policy than expert health professionals, said the cross-party committee.

A rise in the price of drinks through minimum pricing per unit of alcohol would be the most effective way of bringing down consumption and reducing the annual toll of 30,000 to 40,000 deaths, said the report. A minimum price of 50p a unit could save an estimated 3,000 lives each year, and a 40p minimum could save 1,100.

The report rejected as “a myth” the claim that minimum pricing would hit moderate drinkers. At 40p a unit, someone drinking six units a week would pay 11p a week more than at present, while women consuming the recommended maximum of 15 units would pay a total of £6.

The report warned that English drinking habits had been transformed over the past 60 years, with national consumption soaring from three and a half litres of pure alcohol per head in 1947 to nine and a half now. The cost to society of alcohol misuse, including violence, ill-health and death, has been estimated at up to £55bn a year.

Public health minister Gillian Merron said the Department of Health would use today’s report “to strengthen and further develop the action we already have under way”.

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