MINISTERS are under growing pressure to set a higher minimum price for alcohol as new figures revealed that their plans will have less impact than previously estimated.
Researchers at Sheffield University cut their estimates due to a small reduction in alcohol consumption, together with the rising price of drink across the board over the last two years.
As a result, they believe that if the SNP levy a 45p rate – as they proposed two years ago – it will cut alcohol consumption by 3.5 per cent, down from 4.3 per cent two years ago.
Alcohol campaigners last night said the 45p price had to be a “ minimum” for ministers, who will unveil their preferred floor price later this spring.
Campaigners argue that the price has to be set at a level which has a measurable impact on problem drinking.
The study showed that if ministers pushed the floor price up to 70p, it would have three times the impact on cutting hospital admissions, reducing deaths and slashing drink-related crime.
However, retailers and drinks industry figures last night suggested the new figures showed the policy’s effectiveness remained in doubt, and would punish the economy.
John Drummond, the chief executive of the Scottish Grocers Federation, said: “This is the second revision of the report and the second time the assumptions which we are told to be unassailable have been diluted.”
Meanwhile, Labour claimed extra cash from higherpriced drink would simply increase shops’ profits. Labour’s public health spokesman Dr Richard Simpson said: “This latest analysis shows the big retailers are still set to cash in on a whopping windfall in excess of £100m.”
Scottish health secretary Nicola Sturgeon insisted that as people in Scotland were still drinking more than anywhere else in the UK, there remained a strong case to bring in a minimum price on drink.
Two years ago, Ms Sturgeon opted for the 45p figure, in the face of opposition from the other parties. However, she is now free to do as she pleases, as a result of the SNP’s majority.
She said: “We all know that Scotland has a serious problem with alcohol misuse, with Scots drinking more than any other part of the UK and these findings further confirm my belief that minimum pricing can be a key weapon in the battle against this.”
She also highlighted findings in the study which showed that a minimum price would have a bigger impact on heavy drinkers. This is because they tend to favour cheaper alcohol which is more likely to increase in price as a result of the new laws.
A spokeswoman for Alcohol Focus said last night: “We do need a price where the health benefits kick in. Obviously, we do not want it any lower than the figure last time round.”
With a 45p price, the estimated saving from reduced crime, the relieved burden on the NHS, and fewer days at work lost would be £952m over ten years. At 70p, the report suggests that would increase to £2.6 billion.
But the price will not form part of a Minimum Pricing Bill, allowing ministers to increase or decrease it as they see fit.