NICE calls for minimum pricing for alcohol
A minimum price for a unit of alcohol should be introduced to help tackle the rise in problem drinking in Britain, says NICE.
One in 4 men and women are currently drinking dangerous amounts of alcohol that are causing, or have the potential to cause, physical and mental damage.
The number of alcohol-related deaths has more than doubled in the past 16 years, with over 8,000 people dying of conditions such as alcohol poisoning and liver cirrhosis every year.
NICE believes that introducing a minimum price for alcohol alongside other measures that make it harder to buy alcohol, like reducing the number of outlets selling alcohol in a given area or the days and hours that it can be purchased, will help to save thousands of lives each year.
Professor Anne Ludbrook, a health economist from the University of Aberdeen who helped develop the NICE guidance on alcohol-use disorders, said: “Alcohol is much more affordable now than it ever has been, and the price people pay does not reflect the cost of the health and social harms that arise.
“When it is sold at very low price, people often buy and then consume more than they otherwise would have done. It is a dangerous pattern which many people have unknowingly fallen into.”
Professor Ludbrook, who was speaking at the guidance launch in London, added that there are over 100 studies showing that increasing the price of alcohol will reduce levels of drinking and the harms associated with drinking.
“Increasing the price is likely to be the most cost-effective way of reducing drinking,” she said.
Economic modelling work for the guidance was carried out at the University of Sheffield, where researchers found that introducing a minimum price of 50p per unit reduced levels of alcohol consumption by 10.3 per cent among harmful drinkers and 3.8 per cent among moderate drinkers.
But Professor Mike Kelly, Director of Public Health at NICE, stressed that it was not down to the Institute to set a price for a unit of alcohol.
“What we do is review the evidence not specify a minimum price. The decision is one for Parliament and for ministers to take,” he said.
Professor Kelly added: “Alcohol misuse is a major public health concern which kills thousands of people every year and causes a multitude of physical, behavioural and mental health problems.
“What's more it costs the NHS over £2 billion annually to treat the chronic and acute affects of alcohol - this is money that could be spent elsewhere to treat conditions that are not so easily preventable.
“This is a big-ticket issue and the recommendations on minimum pricing chime very well with those made by the Conservatives in their working paper. The Chief Medical Officer and the Scottish Government have all been moving in this direction, and the signals from the Department of Health look quite promising.”
Professor Ian Gilmore, President of the Royal College of Physicians and Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, has long been an advocate of minimum pricing and welcomed NICE's careful and systematic review of the evidence for minimum pricing.
‘It is reassuring to hear these recommendations from NICE. Week in, week out I see the burden of alcohol misuse in my clinics. There is not a family out there that has not been affected by it. “
Elsewhere, the guidance addresses the problem of alcohol-misuse from an individual level with recommendations to screen young people aged 16 and 17 and adults for alcohol problems.
Professor Eileen Kaner, chair of the development group and a public health researcher at the University of Newcastle, said: “The guidance calls for GPs and other public service workers to ask some simple questions about people's drinking habits as early as possible if they ever suspect that there may be a problem.
“Just 5-10 minutes of brief structured lifestyle advice is sufficient to make changes in drinking behaviour. This can help make people aware of the potential risks they are taking or harm they may be doing at an early stage.”
2 June 2010
This page was last updated: 02 June 2010