Government research will assess impact of minimum price for alcohol

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 26 February 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c1177
  1. Adrian O’Dowd
  1. 1London

    The UK government has commissioned new research into minimum pricing for units of alcohol, whom it would affect the most, and in what way, it has been revealed.

    England’s public health minister, Gillian Merron, told the parliamentary health select committee on 25 February that the Home Office had commissioned the research.

    Ms Merron was appearing before the committee for its inquiry into the responsibilities of the public health minister.

    The Home Office’s research is focusing on determining what effects, if any, minimum pricing would have on alcohol related crime and disorder, although a minimum price will also have implications for health.

    MPs on the committee said that the government’s own chief medical officer, the Royal College of Physicians, and Sheffield University, which carried out a major study into the subject, had all recommended a minimum price for a unit of alcohol as a means to reduce the prevalence of drinking and asked why the government had not taken this on board.

    Ms Merron said, “We haven’t ruled it out. I think pricing is a factor. I don’t think dealing with price on its own is the answer.”

    Referring to the Home Office’s research, she said, “I do think we have some gaps in our evidence about who it effects and what effect it will have, but I want to emphasise that we have not ruled it out.”

    The MPs said that efforts to reduce drinking in the country were not working, as there had been large increases in binge drinking in recent years and in the numbers of young people dying from alcohol related diseases.

    Ms Merron replied, “I think it’s too soon to say that. The challenge is immense, and I think we are seeing changes.”

    She said that helpful changes included the Department of Health’s “Alcohol Effects” advertising campaign, the home secretary’s announcement to crack down on the worst excesses of alcohol, the creation of the Alcohol Improvement Programme in 2008, and a consultation on labelling of alcohol, currently under way (BMJ 2010;340:c966, doi:10.1136/bmj.c966).

    David Harper, director general for health improvement and protection at the health department, also giving evidence, said, “The bottom line at the moment is that there is a huge problem here, and we need to take all of these actions to make some impact. It will take some time for the impact of the various measures that we are trying to put in place to come to fruition and demonstrate the impact.”

    MPs asked Ms Merron to ensure that all of her comments would be touched on in the health department’s imminent formal response to the committee’s January report on alcohol (BMJ 2010;340:c136, doi:10.1136/bmj.c136). The report criticised the government for being too close to the drinks industry and backed calls for minimum pricing on alcohol.

    The committee also asked Ms Merron about the impact of the ban on smoking in public places in 2007.

    Ms Merron said, “I think it’s been a tremendous success. Compliance with the law has been very high since day one, and there’s been very high public support. An additional effect has been how many smokers have said the ban has encouraged and focused them to give up.”


    Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c1177

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