Call to ban 'pocket money' booze
Thousands of lives could be saved if cheap alcoholic drinks were made more expensive, medical experts said.
A group of leading doctors and academics urged the Government to bring in a minimum price for alcoholic beverages, saying that "pocket money prices" should be a thing of the past.
In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, 19 experts said there was an "urgent need" to raise the price of cheap alcohol.
The appeal was made before MPs debate alcohol taxation in Westminster Hall.
The letter, signed by the Royal College of Physicians, the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing among others, said: "There is a wealth of evidence to show a direct correlation between alcohol affordability and levels of harm. In 2010, alcohol was 44% more affordable than in 1980, a trend mirrored by an increase in cases of alcohol-related health problems and social damage. We urgently need to raise the price of cheap drink. Harmful drinkers and young people are likely to be the most responsive to price increases.
"In particular, we need to narrow the price gap between alcohol in bars and restaurants and alcohol in supermarkets and off-licences, to make bulk discounts and pocket money prices a thing of the past."
The letter continued: "There is a push towards a minimum price for each unit of alcohol in the devolved nations of the United Kingdom, with the SNP leading the debate in Scotland. This is a simple and effective mechanism for the Scottish Government to control alcohol prices.
"If the Coalition is not ready for such bold action, MPs must not lose sight of the importance of taxation as a means not only to lower alcohol consumption but also to direct revenue into the public purse."
Each year, alcohol causes the admission of more than a million people to hospital, is linked to 13,000 new cases of cancer and is associated with one in four deaths among young people aged 15 to 24, the experts said, warning MPs they must "act now".
A Department for Health spokesman said it planned to launch a new "alcohol strategy" early next year. The spokesman said Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has been reluctant to consider a minimum price per unit because it would not be legal in terms of the EU competition regulations.