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'Cheap booze ban would save lives'

DrinkingMinisters have defended controversial plans to ban cheap deals on booze and insist they would save hundreds of lives every year.

The coalition is proposing a minimum alcohol price of 45p per unit, and an end to multi-buy offers at supermarkets and off-licences.

Officials estimate the move will save the taxpayer millions of pounds a year by cutting crime and health problems linked to binge drinking.

But the drinks industry warned responsible consumers would suffer, with wine and spirits prices being pushed up. They also suggested the move would break EU law, as imports would be hit by price hikes.

Unveiling the package of measures being put out for consultation, Home Office minister Damian Green said: &ldquoThe evidence is clear &ndash the availability of cheap alcohol contributes to harmful levels of drinking.

&ldquoIt can’t be right that it is possible to purchase a can of beer for as little as 20p.&rdquo

He added: &ldquoToo many of us have seen city centres on a Friday and Saturday night often become a vision of hell. A lot of this is fuelled by very cheap, very strong alcohol.

&ldquoThe point of having a minimum unit price rather than, say, increasing taxation, is that you can target the shops that do deliberately sell very strong drink very cheaply.&rdquo

The Government believes imposing a 45p minimum unit price will reduce total alcohol consumption by 3.3 per cent, and cut the number of crimes by 5,000 per year and hospital admissions by 24,000.

There will be 700 fewer alcohol-linked deaths annually, according to the predictions.

The Alcohol Health Alliance UK, made up of 32 medical and counselling organisations, welcomed proposals to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol in England and Wales.

But chairman Professor Sir Ian Gilmore said the minimum unit price should be 50p.

He said: &ldquoAccording to the University of Sheffield, a minimum unit price of 50p would reduce total alcohol consumption by 6.7 per cent, saving around 20,000 hospital admissions in the first year.&rdquo

Wine and Spirit Trade Association chief executive Miles Beale said: &ldquoIt is hard to understand why the Government is pushing ahead with the consultation now, when there is a wall of opposition in Europe, a legal challenge in Scotland, a lack of any real evidence to support minimum unit pricing, opposition from consumers and concerns raised from within Cabinet itself.&rdquo

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