HEALTH campaigners are today calling on the Government to impose minimum prices on alcohol and save lives and millions of pounds on Wearside.
North East alcohol office Balance wants ministers to set a rate of 50p per unit for alcohol, with eight out every 10 GPs in the North East in support of the proposals.
The calls come just a week after the Echo revealed that drink abuse is costing the Sunderland economy more than £54million a year.
Alcohol misuse in the city costs the NHS £31.18million, crime and licensing £38.01million, and social services £9.93million.
The total cost of £133.34million, works out at the equivalent of £470 for every man, woman and child in Sunderland.
Launched today, the Real price of cheap alcohol campaign aims to encourage the public to back a minimum unit price of at least 50p.
The setting would link the price of alcohol to its strength, increasing the price of the cheapest, strongest alcohol, such as strong white cider.
Researchers at the University of Sheffield estimate that moderate drinkers could be expected to pay only 28p a week extra on their weekly alcohol bill for these benefits, if a minimum 50p per unit were introduced.
Colin Shevills, pictured, director of Balance, argues that moderate drinkers who enjoy a few pints each week will not be hit hard in the pocket.
Mr Shevills said: “Cheap alcohol is having a devastating impact on the North East – it’s ending lives, putting people in hospital, fuelling crime and threatening the future of our children and young people.
“This is the real cost of alcohol sold at pocket money prices. It’s no bargain, we’re paying a heavy price that we can no longer afford. We know that the more affordable alcohol is, the more people consume.
“A minimum unit price of at least 50p will make cheap, strong alcohol less affordable to the vulnerable younger and heavier drinkers who are more likely to drink it and suffer the consequences. It will have no effect on the price of a pint in a community pub.”
Top doctors have also given their backing to the proposals.
Dr George Rae, chairman of British Medical Association North East, said: “A minimum unit price, as a key part of wider alcohol strategy, would have a huge impact on tackling the North East’s heavy drinking culture.”
“Unfortunately, the North East often finds itself at the top of the league when it comes to alcohol harm.
“If we’re serious about changing this situation, we need to let Government know that the North East supports a minimum unit price of at least 50p.”
Mr Shevills added: “For a few extra pennies a week, we can help save lives, cut crime and protect our children. That seems like a price North Easterners, the majority of whom already back a minimum unit price, would be prepared to pay.”
A Government consultation on minimum pricing for alcohol is expected to begin before the end of this year.