January 18, 2011 / 12:41 PM / in 7 years

Critics scorn new moves on underage drinking

LONDON (Reuters) - Shops and pubs in the UK will be barred from selling drinks for less than the rate of duty and VAT owed on them, as part of a crackdown on binge drinking among young people, the government said on Tuesday.

<p>Bar Manager Nicolas de Soto mixes a Calvados-based cocktail at ECC in Chinatown, London December 3, 2010. REUTERS/Toby Melville</p>

But critics said the proposals did not go far enough and that too much booze was still being sold at “pocket money prices”

The proposals aim to stop retailers in England and Wales selling alcohol at very cheap prices and curb “pre-loading” -- where young people drink large quantities of alcohol in preparation for a night out.

“We know that pricing controls can help reduce alcohol-related violent crime and this is a crucial step in tackling the availability of cheap alcohol,” James Brokenshire, minister for crime prevention, said in a statement.

Under the plans, the minimum price for a bottle of vodka would be 10.71 pounds ($17.14) while a can of lager could not be sold for less than 38 pence. A bottle of wine would cost at least 2.03 pounds.

The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition has already announced plans to hike the tax rate on high-strength beer from 2011 as part of wider efforts to tackle alcohol abuse and reduce the financial burden on the health services.

But health campaigners said the pricing levels would make little difference.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but I have to say it’s an extremely small step,” Ian Gilmore, chair of the UK Health Alliance, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“It’ll have no impact whatsoever on the vast majority of cheap drinks sold, for example, in supermarkets,” he said.

Health bodies had called on the government to consider a minimum price of 50 pence per unit of alcohol. The Home Office proposal is in line with a minimum price of between 20 and 30 pence per unit.

Last year the Scottish parliament rejected plans to introduce a minimum price per unit of 45 pence after opposition lawmakers said it would break EU and international trade rules and penalize responsible drinkers.

Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Steve Addison

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