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Minimum pricing still on agenda with Public Health England

Published:  27 October, 2014

Minimum pricing could be back on the UK government's agenda sooner than expected, as Public Health England vows to keep pushing for the measure in the next 18 months.

Minimum pricingMinimum pricing could be back in play sooner than expectedPublic Health England will continue to state the case for minimum pricing for alcohol over the next 18 months, it says.

The PHE strategy, as published in the report From evidence into action: opportunities to protect and improve the nation's health, will focus on "securing improvements against seven priorities" including childhood obesity, smoking and "reducing harmful drinking and alcohol-related hospital admissions".

The report, which states that in 2012/13 there were 326,000 alcohol-related hospital admissions, says "alcohol is the leading risk factor for preventable death in 15-49 year olds". It also states that 9 million adults now drink at levels that increase the risk of harm.

It report adds that "society as a whole" pays the price for alcohol harm, with costs to the NHS of £3.5 billion per year. In the next 18 months it will "use alcohol as the trailblazer" for a new cross-government system focused on evidence based policies, prevention and treatment interventions.

It states that it will "continue to set out the evidence base for the introduction of a minimum unit price for alcohol".

It will also "consider the evidence for the inclusion of health as a licensing objective".

Minimum pricing has slid off the UK government's agenda in the past year, especially since the Scottish government's proposed plan was referred to the European Court of Justice back in April. Instead the UK government has focused on prohibiting below-cost selling of alcohol.

Speaking of the Scottish referral at the time, Lord Eassie said there was an "evident area of uncertainty" over where the jurisdiction for setting a minimum price lies. Since Scotland ploughed ahead with the measure, the UK government has adopted a "wait-and-see" policy before forging ahead with plans of its own. This mention within PHE's report shows the issue is still a major consideration in the government's attempt to curb problem drinking.   

In a foreword to the document, David Heymann,  PHE board chair and Duncan Selbie, PHE chief executive, said: "We have an ambition: for people of this country to live as well as possible, for as long as possible. But on current trends, we are going to fall short because we face an epidemic of largely preventable long-term diseases."