Further calls to raise alcohol unit prices

Picture by Rui Vieira/PA Wire

Picture by Rui Vieira/PA Wire

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Health campaigners in the North East are calling for an increase in taxes on the cheapest alcohol following the publication of a report revealing more working years are lost to alcohol than the 10 most frequent cancer types combined.

The report goes on to say that alcohol is the leading cause of ill health and death among 15 to 49-year-olds and results in 167,000 years of life lost in people of working age.

Published in The Lancet, the findings are based on a comprehensive evidence review carried out by Public Health England. It comes to the same conclusion as the World Health Organization and Development and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence among others:

Raising the price of the cheapest alcohol is the most effective way to save lives while reducing costs to the NHS, other public services and the wider economy.

The review also says protecting children from alcohol advertising; restricting hours of opening; and drink-driving measures are both effective and cost-effective.

Directors of public health in the North East are calling for an increase in alcohol duty on the cheapest products, such as strong white cider typically consumed by young people and heavy drinkers. A recent price survey carried out in the region by Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, revealed that a three-litre bottle of white cider, containing the equivalent of 22 shots of vodka, is available for only £3.99.

Amanda Healy, chairman of the regional Directors of Public Health Network, said: “There can no longer be any doubt. We need to stop selling alcohol at pocket-money prices if we want to reduce harm and protect our children and other vulnerable groups.

“Many of those people who end up in treatment services across the North East, both adults and children, seek out the cheapest alcohol, usually white cider and cheap vodka. Public Health England’s report provides yet more evidence, if it were needed, of the effectiveness of raising the price of the cheapest alcohol in order to reduce harm.”

At the same time, directors of public health are calling for a minimum unit price for alcohol in England. A recent study produced on behalf of Cancer Research UK found that over 20 years, a 50p minimum unit price in England would reduce alcohol deaths by around 7,200 while healthcare costs would fall by £1.2billion.

Colin Shevills, director of Balance, said: “Cheap alcohol is costing the North East more than we can afford. We have always known the damage it is causing to our health. What Public Health England’s report reveals is that it is significantly damaging our economy too.

“It is time for the Government to step in to protect children and other vulnerable groups by increasing the duty on white cider in the next budget. And by introducing a minimum unit price, the Government would be targeting the cheapest strongest products while leaving pub prices untouched.

“This excellent report by Public Health England provides a starting point for a new, comprehensive, evidence-based strategy which will save lives, cut crime, reduce the burden on emergency services and boost productivity.”