A SENIOR MP has rejected as a "myth" the claim that moderate drinkers would be affected by plans to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol.
• MP Kevin Barron said minimum pricing would only hit those who drink cheap alcohol. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
As both the Scottish and Westminster parliaments debated the issue, the chair of the House of Commons health select committee, Kevin Barron, called for the measure to stem increasing rates of addiction and the multi-billion pound cost to society in terms of treatment and crime.
And during a Commons debate Mr Barron stressed that minimum pricing would actually hit those who drank cheap alcohol, such as young binge drinkers and heavy drinkers on low incomes. These groups suffered most from liver disease and other alcohol-related health problems, he said.
"It is estimated that a minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol would save about 3,000 lives a year and a minimum price of 40p per unit would save about 1,100 lives a year," Mr Barron said.
"Minimum pricing would have other benefits. Unlike rises in (alcohol] duty, it would benefit traditional pubs and this is supported by the Campaign for Real Ale.
"It is true to say minimum pricing would be more likely to support your local pub than do anything adverse to it."
He said minimum pricing would also encourage drinkers to switch to weaker beers, wines and ciders. It would have the greatest impact on cheap high-strength lagers and what he called "industrial white cider".
Labour's Graham Stringer said alcohol duty on white cider, a drink favoured by many alcoholics and binge drinkers, should be brought up to the same level as beer.
He said it was "wrong" that spirits had only seen duty rise 20 per cent since Labour came to power, compared with 50 per cent for beer.
Mr Barron claimed the "industrial white cider" only cost 20p per unit at the supermarket, adding: "This is the stuff you see young children and people on park benches drinking, and that has to stop."
Separately, MSPs on Holyrood's health committee considered minimum pricing, one of a number of measures in the Scottish Government's Alcohol Bill.
They heard from whisky supplier Whyte & Mackay, which warned it might have to cut hundreds of Scottish jobs – but only if minimum drink pricing was introduced across the UK.
The Asda, Morrisons and Sainsbury's supermarket chains have also expressed concern about the plan.
David Paterson, Scottish affairs manager for Asda, the UK's second largest supermarket chain, said the government's minimum pricing proposals did not address the issue of cross-border trade and internet sales.
Tesco, Britain's largest supermarket, indicated it would be willing to engage in talks on minimum pricing.
A spokesman for health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: "There is unanimity among the police, health professionals and chief medical officers that minimum pricing is necessary as part of a package of measures to tackle alcohol misuse, but there is clearly a variety of different views within the industry – with Tennent's, the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, the Society of Independent Brewers Scotland, Harviestoun brewers and Edradour, Scotland's smallest independent whisky distillery, all strongly in support of minimum pricing."