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Health campaigners slam UK’s new alcohol price plan

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The British government unveiled minimum prices for alcohol Tuesday in a bid to curb binge-drinking and booze-related violence, but health campaigners immediately condemned the measures as insufficient.

Retailers will be banned from selling alcohol below the cost of duty plus sales tax, meaning a can of lager must cost at least 38 pence (60 dollar cents, 45 euro cents) and a one-litre bottle of vodka at least 10.71 pounds.

“By introducing this new proposal we are sending a clear message that the government will not stand by and let drink be sold so cheaply that it leads to a greater risk of health harms or drunken violence,” said Home Office minister James Brokenshire in a statement.

Health campaigners condemned the measures, which they say have been watered down since they were first proposed and will do little to stop shops selling booze at rock bottom prices, one of the factors blamed for heavy drinking.

“It’ll have no impact whatsoever on the vast majority of cheap drinks sold for example in supermarkets,” health campaigner and liver disease specialist Professor Ian Gilmore told the BBC, dubbing it an “extremely small step”.

But he conceded: “If it shows the government accepts that cheap drink is the main driver of the health harm we’re seeing then perhaps we’ll manage to ease it up in the right direction where it might make a practical difference.”

Don Shenker, chief executive of charity Alcohol Concern, also warned the measures “will not go any way towards resolving this country’s binge drinking problem”, saying that alcohol taxes remained too low.

However, Gavin Partington from the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) said the new rules were “pragmatic”.

“What we have got is a pragmatic solution which addresses some of the concerns about discount alcohol being sold in various parts of the industry, but does it in a way which doesn’t adversely affect the huge majority of drinkers who actually enjoy a drink in moderation,” he told the BBC.

In 2007, there were 6,541 deaths directly related to alcohol in England — an increase of 19 percent since 2001 — and alcohol-related harm cost the

National Health Service 2.7 billion pounds in 2006-07, official figures show.

London, Jan 18, 2011 (AFP)