Push for weaker alcoholic drinks as UK tackles binge drinking
ALCOHOLIC drinks should be made weaker to deal with the "deadly problem" of binge drinking, a health minister said yesterday.
Anne Milton said there would not be "one silver bullet" to deal with the problems of drink when the UK government's alcohol strategy is published next month.
But one of the key goals is to "remove a significant number of units of alcohol from the UK market through changes in how alcohol is produced and sold".
"Quality above quantity is something we're aiming to do," she said. "We can't turn this problem around overnight but we're deadly serious about a deadly problem."
Ministers are due to unveil measures to price alcoholic drinks according to strength, either through higher taxation per unit, minimum pricing per unit or simply higher levels of duty for strong drinks. There will also be moves to encourage companies to produce weaker alcoholic drinks.
Prime Minister David Cameron is known to favour the idea of minimum pricing. Medical professionals claim that nearly 10,000 lives per year could be saved if it was set at 50p per unit. However, legal complications may mean ministers opt for the simpler concepts of higher taxation per unit or higher duty for strong drinks.
The strategy was meant to be published earlier this year, but was delayed while the issue of taxation was debated within Downing Street, the Treasury, the Home Office and the Department of Health.
Yesterday, Mrs Milton said: "The fact is that shops sell alcohol at a loss to get customers through the door. That can encourage binge drinking.
"That is why we are committed to banning the sale of alcohol below cost. It is an important first step. There are many different ways to achieve this aim and the alcohol strategy will outline our steps to tackle this issue."
Doctors' groups, including the Royal College of Physicians and the British Medical Association, support the toughest option of minimum pricing per unit, as do a coalition of churches. The Church of England, the Methodist Church and the Baptist Union of Great Britain have all written to Mr Cameron urging him to consider strong measures to tackle "current levels of ill-health and public disorder".
They say "a ban on below-cost sales, a special tax on strong beers or a voluntary code for advertising are likely to be inadequate".