UK Prime Minister Favors Minimum Price on Alcohol

A British newspaper reported on Wednesday that Prime Minister David Cameron had ordered officials to draw up plans to set a minimum price for alcohol to discourage excessive drinking, but the government said no decision had been taken.

The Daily Telegraph said the officials had been told to develop a scheme to prevent the sale of alcohol in shops in England at below 40 to 50 pence (63 to 79 U.S. cents) per unit.

That could lead to sharp price rises, particularly for cider and some spirits.

The Scottish government has already announced plans to set a minimum price to tackle alcohol abuse, which kills thousands of Britons each year.

The British government could decide either to copy the Scottish proposals in England or to introduce a system of taxes based on the number of units of alcohol in a drink, the report said.

Both options would cost drinkers an additional 700 million pounds ($1.1 billion) a year, with any extra tax revenue potentially going to the state-run National Health Service, it said.

A government spokesman said the coalition would continue to review all available evidence on how to tackle alcohol abuse.

“Our alcohol strategy, which we will set out shortly, will outline what further steps we are taking to tackle this problem. No decisions have been made,” the spokesman said.

The Daily Telegraph quoted a government source as saying Cameron was “keen on the minimum price”, but said the Business Department had warned that forcing firms to charge a minimum price could be illegal under European Union law. It said the government would publish its alcohol strategy in February.

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