Minimum booze prices look likely

Dominic Lipinski/PA

The Prime Minister will outline plans to tackle binge-drinking Britain today, including the suggestion of cells known as "drunk tanks" to detain intoxicated people until they sober up.

David Cameron will reinforce his commitment to dealing with the nation's growing alcohol problem and easing the enormous pressure on the NHS, with higher minimum drink prices looking increasingly likely.

The Prime Minister will use his visit to a hospital in the north–east today to attack the "scandal of our society," according to a report by the Daily Telegraph today.

Official NHS figures show alcohol abuse costs the health service £2.7bn a year, including £1 billion on A&E services. The NHS recorded over 265,200 admissions directly related to alcohol consumption in 2009/2010, reflecting a 40% increase in the last decade.
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The government is due to publish its alcohol strategy next month, following nearly a year of consultation with the drinks industry and health experts.

Cameron is thought to be edging towards a minimum price among the range of measures to tackle the growing blight of irresponsible drinking. A minimum price of 40p-50p per unit of alcohol in shops and supermarkets has been put forward to deal with the cut-price offers that encourage underage drinking and revelers to "load up" on cheap booze before hitting town centre bars and pubs when they are already inebriated.

A minimum price for alcohol will see Cameron overruling the advice of health secretary Andrew Lansley, who is strongly opposed to the idea and has previously warned that a legal minimum could breach European competition rules.

The drinks industry has responded angrily to the minimum price suggestions, arguing that it will be ineffective in combatting binge drinking and mainly affect responsible drinkers. Drinks company Diageo argues that there is no evidence anywhere in the world that this it is an effective measure in reducing alcohol-abuse.

Scotland has gone furthest on minimum pricing, proposing a ban on the sale of alcohol at less than 45p a unit to target own brand vodka, strong cider and basic lagers. Despite receiving overwhelming support from health organisations, the police and public health academics, the proposals are facing considerable legal challenge from the drinks industry.

An alternative option to minimum pricing, which Cameron is also considering, is more sophisticated system of taxes based on the number of alcohol units contained in the drink.

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