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Government to reject calls for minimum alcohol price

LONDON - The Government is set to reject its chief medical officer's proposal for a minimum alcohol price, which would double the price of some drinks, because the ruling would punish responsible drinkers.

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The chief medical officer and government advisor on health issues Sir Liam Donaldson will today recommend the introduction of a minimum price for alcohol in a bid to tackle binge drinking.

His plan to charge at least 50p per unit of alcohol contained in drinks would mean every can of beer costing at least £1 and a bottle of wine a minimum of £4.50. 

The price of four cans of K cider would increase 136% from £3.13 to £7.40, Blended Scotch Whisky M&S would jump 40% from £9.99 to £14.00 and a bottle of Villa Pendio Pinot Grigio Sainsbury's would go up 13% from £3.99 to £4.50.

However, despite binge drinking costing the NHS around £3bn a year, the government looks set to ignore the advice of its most senior health adviser.

A source close to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, said: "I do not think this is where we are going. The majority of sensible drinkers should not have to pay the price for the irresponsible and excessive drinking of a small minority."

This message was echoed by work and pensions secretary James Purnell, who told BBC One's 'The Politics Show': "Clearly we will look at Liam Donaldson's proposals; he's a very eminent person in his field. But we are very clear we don't want to punish the majority for the sins of the minority. I think certainly at a time of economic difficulty that looks like it would be the effect."

The Portman Group, which represents drinks companies, urged the government to reject the proposals claiming that it would "hit the pockets of hardworking families already struggling to make ends meet".

The Conservatives are also opposed to the plans. Andrew Lansley, shadow health secretary said that Conservative proposals, which include measures to tackle loss-leader promotions and higher taxes on high-alcohol drinks aimed at young people, would address binge drinking without penalising the majority of moderate drinkers.

Donaldson's call for a ban on smoking in public places was initially rejected by ministers before being introduced two years ago.

Earlier this month the SNP government in Scotland announced that it planned to fix a minimum price per unit and to ban discount deals on alcohol.

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