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Rejection of minimum alcohol pricing will cost lives, warns BMA

The government’s decision to renege on its pledge to introduce a minimum price for alcohol will cost lives, the BMA has warned.

alcohol labelling examplesIt accused the government of caving in to industry pressure and palming the public off with weak pledges, in stern criticism issued as part of the Alcohol Health Alliance response to the news.

Home office minister Jeremy Browne also rejected a ban on multi-buy promotions but said alcohol sales below the cost of duty plus VAT would be banned.

However, BMA director of professional activities Vivienne Nathanson argued that this cost-price initiative would affect less than 1 per cent of alcohol sales in shops and off-licences.

She dismissed the government’s argument that there was insufficient evidence that minimum unit pricing would reduce alcohol-related harm without penalising those who drank responsibly.


Canadian policy success

Dr Nathanson insisted: ‘Real-life experience of minimum pricing in Canada has shown some tremendous results — with a 10 per cent increase in the price of cheapest drinks leading to a 32 per cent reduction in wholly alcohol-related deaths.

‘In ignoring this evidence and not listening to frontline workers, the government is taking a position that will cost lives and do nothing to reduce alcohol-related crime and disorder.’

The Scottish government said the ‘disappointing’ UK government decision would not affect Scotland’s commitment to introducing minimum pricing.

The government insisted that its decision on minimum unit pricing, which it committed to in last year’s Alcohol Strategy for England and Wales, gives the drinks industry an opportunity to support ways to reduce harm voluntarily.

But its latest decisions prompted the FPH (Faculty of Public Health) to withdraw support for responsibility deals – voluntary pledges from industry to tackle the big public health issues such as alcohol misuse and obesity.


Double setback

FPH president John Ashton said the standard-setting body was dismayed and disappointed over the decisions to shelve both minimum unit pricing and standardised tobacco packaging, which were announced just days earlier.

Professor Ashton said: ‘Many FPH members will conclude that the government’s policies are putting the interests of industry ahead of improving people’s health … Despite continued lobbying for effective monitoring and evaluation, there is no evidence that the “softly, softly” approach of engaging with industry rather than using legislation to improve people’s health has been more effective or quicker.’

BMA public health medicine committee co-chairs Mark Temple and Penelope Toff said they were not surprised by the Faculty's decision and supported it wholeheartedly. They argued: 'When the government will not act on overwhelming evidence or allow public health experts even from Public Health England to influence policy, it does not suggest they put the health of the public as their priority.' 

Dr Nathanson added: ‘We agree with the FPH that the responsibility deal concept is fatally flawed by industries’ conflict of interest, and the lack of government willingness to put in place the measures which will quite clearly reduce alcohol harm and cigarette smoking.’

In a ministerial statement, Mr Browne said minimum unit pricing would ‘remain a policy under consideration’.

He explained: ‘We do not yet have enough concrete evidence that its introduction would be effective in reducing harms associated with problem drinking, without penalising people who drink responsibly.’

Read the government’s response to its alcohol consultation.