Alcohol prices

‘Race to the top’ should include minimum alcohol prices, says WHO

The government should introduce minimum prices for alcohol as part of its “race to the top” program, advisers from the World Health Organization say.

In a report released Tuesdaythe UN agency has urged countries in Europe – where alcohol is responsible for almost a million deaths each year – to set a base rate for alcohol sales.

Academics said there was “compelling evidence” that the controversial policy would help reduce alcohol-related harm and tackle health inequities, as it targeted cheap, high-drink alcohol concentration.

Although Europe has the highest share of deaths caused by alcohol consumption, only five countries – Armenia, Ireland, Ukraine, Scotland and Wales – currently apply a price minimum per unit.

Scotland set it at 50p in 2018, in what was one of Nicola Sturgeon’s flagship policies, and Wales followed suit in 2020. According to a Newcastle University study and published in the Lancet medical journal last year, alcohol sales fell nearly eight per cent after the policy was introduced in Scotland.

“There is fairly compelling evidence from Canada, Scotland and Australia that the introduction of minimum prices, or increasing the minimum prices already in place, has led to a decline in alcohol consumption “said Colin Angus, senior researcher at Sheffield University’s Alcohol Research. Group and co-author of the report, said Tuesday during a press briefing.

“The evidence also suggests that these falls were the largest among the heaviest drinkers we saw, which is what we expected and what you would want to see from a policy to reduce the harms of alcohol.”

In England, the government has said there are no plans to introduce a minimum price, although it is keeping the matter under review. But Mr Angus said the policy should be seen as part of the Tory party’s leveling scheme.

“There are parts of England, particularly the North of England, which have very high rates of alcohol-related harm. And so introducing a minimum minimum price would reduce harm and reduce inequality, which is a big part of the current narrative in the UK,” he said.