Calls for a minimum price on alcohol have grown louder after a key NHS body threw its weight behind the proposal.

The National Institute for Health & Clinical Excellence (NICE) today claimed a minimum cost per unit of alcohol would be the most effective way to curb excessive drinking.

Professor Mike Kelly, NICE’s public health director, said a minimum tariff of 50p per unit would cut alcohol consumption by more than 10% among heavy drinkers and by almost 4% among moderate drinkers.

The body also called for a total ban on alcohol advertising.

Responding to NICE’s claims, Gavin Partington of the Wine & Spirit Trade Association said: "Sadly, this guidance proposes measures that will not address the root causes of alcohol misuse and will merely punish the majority of British consumers who drink responsibly.

"Minimum pricing is probably illegal and won't stop problem drinkers. Advertising is already tightly regulated and banning it would hit the pockets of millions of consumers and threaten the loss of thousands of jobs."

Tory health secretary Andrew Lansley admitted that "supply and price are far from the only factors in driving alcohol misuse” and said “no legislation or initiative will work unless we have a better understanding of what drives people's decisions”.

But he added: "The government is committed to taking tough action to tackle problem drinking, including the price of problem drinks, stopping supermarkets from selling alcohol below cost price and introducing a tougher licensing regime."

Last week Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy gave his backing to a ban on selling booze below cost price, although critics argue the plan could be impossible to implement legally.

Read more
Why a below-cost booze ban will be harder than it sounds (analysis; 29 May 2010)
Editor's Comment: Curb promotions, yes, but a below-cost ban won’t work (29 May 2010)
Tesco boss Leahy backs minimum pricing on alcohol (21 May 2010)