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New bill to tackle availability of cheap alcohol in Wales

It is estimated 50,000 alcohol-related hospital admissions a year in Wales. Credit: PA images

New plans for minimum alcohol pricing have been unveiled by the Welsh Government.

It hopes the Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill will tackle the effects of excess alcohol consumption.

It is estimated there are 50,000 alcohol-related hospital admissions a year, costing the Welsh NHS £120m annually.

463
Alcohol-related deaths in Wales in 2015
Credit: PA images

The Welsh Government wants to tackle the availability and affordability of cheap, strong alcohol.

The bill proposes a minimum price for alcohol supplied in Wales, and makes it an offence for alcohol to be supplied below that price.

In 2014, research on the impacts of introducing a 50p minimum unit price (MUP) estimated the following:

  • A 50p MUP would result in 53 fewer deaths and 1,400 fewer hospital admissions in Wales per year
  • A 50p MUP would save the Welsh NHS more than £130m over 20 years
  • It would reduce workplace absence, which is estimated would fall by up to 10,000 days per year.

Alcohol-related harm is a significant public health problem in Wales.

The 463 alcohol-attributable deaths in 2015 were all avoidable, and each of these deaths would have had a devastating effect on the person’s family and friends.

Alcohol-related harm also has a big impact on public services such as the NHS.

– Public Health Minister Rebecca Evans

As alcohol has become more affordable, consumption has increased.

As consumption increases, harm increases.

All alcohol-attributable deaths are avoidable deaths, demonstrating the urgency for further preventative action..

Increasing the price of alcohol through the introduction of a minimum unit price provides us with an effective and efficient way of reducing excessive alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm.

– Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Dr Frank Atherton

The new plans for minimum alcohol pricing in Wales have been welcomed by Alcohol Concern.

The charity says it 'will save lives'.

It says alcohol can currently be purchased in Wales for as little as 18p per unit.

Crucially, this isn’t a tax on booze.

Minimum pricing is a much more targeted measure than tax, because it raises the prices of only the very cheapest alcoholic drinks on the market – those that tend to be purchased and consumed by the heaviest drinkers.

If you’re a moderate or light drinker then you really have nothing to worry about.

– Alcohol Concern Cymru Director, Andrew Misell
Credit: PA Images

Cancer charity Tenovus said it supports the introduction of minimum pricing but there must be a "package of interventions" to change life chances.

Minimum Unit Pricing is aimed at reducing the harm of cheap and high volume alcohol in large amounts.

Long term alcohol consumption is linked to a number of cancers including bowel, breast and liver.

This is not a policy that hits your local pub, but one that starts in your local supermarket by a small increase in the basic price of spirits and large quantities of cheap beer and cider.

To put this into context, the proposals made by the Scottish Government mean each unit of alcohol will be at least 50 pence, meaning that a 12 per cent bottle of wine will have to cost at least £4.50, and a four per cent pint of beer at least £1.41.

We want to help people live long and healthy lives free from cancer, but we don’t expect everyone to become teetotal to achieve this. Minimum Unit Pricing will reduce harm to the heaviest drinkers in society, but it is not the only thing we need to do to achieve this. We expect Welsh Government to support and promote community schemes to help the heaviest drinkers reduce and potentially quit across Wales.

There needs to be a package of policy interventions in place to change life chances and we look forward to seeing this first step being a success.”

– Jon Antoniazzi, Tenovus Cancer Care