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90% of population ‘would be unaffected’ by minimum alcohol price

The impact of introducing a national Minimum Unit Price for alcohol would be 200 times greater for heavy drinkers with alcohol-related cirrhosis than for a moderate drinker, a study has found.

Research by the University of Southampton has found that introducing a minimum unit price (MUP) of 50p per unit would leave bars and pubs unaffected, and would have no impact on 90% of the population.

The BMA has responded that this is yet more evidence against the ‘hollow’ arguments of the Government and alcohol industry that a MUP would penalise responsible drinkers.

The study, published in the Royal College of Physicians’ journal Clinical Medicine, followed 404 patients with liver conditions and asked how much alcohol they drank, what type and how much they paid.

It found that patients with alcohol-related cirrhosis had extremely harmful drinking habits and were consuming the equivalent of four bottles of vodka per week, and were buying the cheapest product available, paying 33p per unit.

Low risk, moderate drinkers were found to be spending on average £1.10 per unit.

The paper states: ‘The vast majority of low risk drinkers (89%) would pay nothing extra at all. The reasons for the hugely disproportionate impact are that the majority of patients with alcohol-related cirrhosis have extremely high alcohol consumptions and, as a result, have graduated to the cheapest alcohol it is possible to buy.’

Lead author Professor Nick Sheron said: ‘Setting a minimum unit price for alcohol is an almost perfect alcohol policy because it targets cheap booze bought by very heavy drinkers and leaves moderate drinkers completely unaffected.’

Professor Sheila Hollins, chair of the BMA’s Board of Science, said: ‘This study is yet more evidence that the argument from both the Government and alcohol industry that minimum unit pricing would penalise responsible drinkers rings hollow.’

‘With the costs of alcohol-related harm estimated at £25bn across the UK, of which more than £3bn is on healthcare, there are clear economic, social and public health cases for tackling problem drinking.’

Clinical Medicine 2014; available online 1 August


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