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Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Minimum unit pricing 'important tool to reducing alcohol consumption' in Wales

Written by Rod Minchin

Minimum unit pricing for alcohol will be a major part of a wider package of measures to reduce the harms caused by excessive alcohol consumption in Wales, Health Secretary Vaughan Gething has said.

Ahead of an Assembly debate on the Welsh Government's Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill, which was introduced to the National Assembly last October, Mr Gething has announced extra investment in substance misuse services.

Assembly Members will decide whether the Bill should pass its first legislative stage and proceed on to stage two - which involves detailed consideration by Assembly committees.

If passed by the Assembly later this year, the current intention is that a minimum unit price would be introduced 12 months after the Bill's Royal Assent.

Last year, Welsh Government-commissioned research found that if a 50p minimum unit price was introduced it would be estimated to avoid 66 deaths and 1,281 hospital admissions per year.

The Welsh Government invests almost £50 million a year to support people with substance misuse issues.

Almost half of this funding goes directly to the seven area planning boards which commission substance misuse services for their region.

In response to calls made for additional resources to be allocated for substance misuse services, the Health Secretary has confirmed the ring-fenced substance misuse funding for health boards will be increased by nearly £1 million, to more than £18 million from 2018/19.

Speaking ahead of the debate, Mr Gething said: "Wales, like so many other Western countries, has a problem with cheap, strong, readily available alcohol.

"Minimum unit pricing is not a silver bullet, but it will be a major new and important tool in our approach to reducing alcohol consumption.

"By introducing a minimum price, we can make a difference - as we have done with the smoking ban, which demonstrated our determination to create a different future for the people of Wales.

"I've been very clear that it will not work in isolation. Alcohol policy in Wales requires a variety of approaches which, taken together, can generate change.

"That's why we are supporting people throughout Wales to develop a healthier relationship with alcohol through our substance misuse strategy and end the sad spectre of people dying from drink.

"We know there is a significant amount of evidence from around the world showing there is a very clear relationship between the price of alcohol and alcohol consumption. Our groundbreaking legislation helps address that.

"There have long been calls for Wales to change its relationship with alcohol. I expect this Bill will make a fundamental contribution to reducing hazardous and harmful drinking and ultimately will help to save lives."

The availability of cheap, strong alcohol is estimated to lead to 50,000 alcohol-related hospital admissions a year, costing the Welsh NHS £120 million annually. In 2016, there were 504 alcohol-related deaths in Wales.

The Bill proposes to introduce a minimum price for alcohol supplied in Wales and to make it an offence for alcohol to be supplied below that price.

The level of the minimum unit price would be specified in regulations made by the Welsh ministers.

In Scotland, the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) Act was passed in June 2012 and is to be introduced later this year after the Supreme Court ruled it did not breach European law.

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