Proposals to introduce a minimum price on alcohol will not solve Britain's binge-drinking culture and could lead to an explosion in duty fraud, industry campaigners have claimed.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) called on the government to go one step further than its Tesco-backed plans to ban below-cost selling by pushing for a minimum per-unit price on alcohol. The NHS spin-off body responsible for promoting good health also wantS to protect ­consumers by slashing the number of shops licensed to sell beer, wine and ­spirits.

"We believe a minimum price for alcohol and making it harder to buy alcohol will help to save thousands of lives a year," it claimed.

However, Nice's comments were immediately slammed by the industry, with claims that proposals to ban below-cost selling of alcohol would be unenforceable, and that the argument for minimum pricing was not only unfounded but would result in an increase in duty fraud.

Local shops could close if Nice's proposals were implemented, claimed ACS chief executive James Lowman. "There is no credible evidence that limiting licences for local shops would reduce alcohol harm, nor is there evidence that the net number of licences in local shops has increased in recent years."

Minimum pricing and a ban of below-cost selling "could lead to a sharp rise in duty fraud and boost fraudsters' margins", added Federation of Wholesale Distributors chief executive James Bielby

Brewers, distillers and winemakers also waded into the debate with a Heineken spokesman claiming that minimum pricing would "penalise the vast majority of UK drinkers who enjoy alcohol responsibly", while Simon Litherland, MD for Diageo GB, claimed there was "no credible empirical evidence" to support the call for minimum pricing.

Read more
Editor's Comment: Why I’m in favour of a minimum price for alcohol (5 June 2010)
NHS watchdog backs alcohol minimum pricing (2 June 2010)