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Vary VAT on alcohol: a more palatable way to achieve minimum pricing?

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 17 November 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6573
  1. Nick Sheron, head of clinical hepatology, University of Southampton
  1. Nick.Sheron{at}

The House of Commons Health Select Committee report early this year placed the overall cost of alcohol to the UK in the region of £20bn-£55bn (€24bn-€65bn, $32bn-$88bn), with perhaps 30 000 to 40 000 deaths and 863 300 admissions to hospital each year ( The report recommended that the government set a minimum price for alcohol of about 40-50 pence a unit, following a lead set by the independent Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP). SHAAP developed the policy in response to spiralling death rates as a clever workaround to the fact that the Scottish government did not have powers to increase duty on alcohol. The Scottish government then put forward legislation to introduce a minimum price per unit, but this proposal received a setback when the Scottish Parliamentary Health Committee split along party political lines to reject it.

In June of this year the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence published its long awaited guidance on the prevention of alcohol use disorders and again recommended the introduction of a minimum price per unit ( It used evidence from a modelling study commissioned by the Department …

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