Sales of alcohol in Wales are set to be governed by a system of minimum pricing enforceable by law.

The Welsh Government has unveiled its Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill, which it hopes will become law.

If passed, it would introduce a minimum price for alcohol supplied in Wales, and make it an offence for shops to sell alcohol below that price.

The South Wales Argus has invited an expert from Public Health Wales to give an insight into the importance of minimum pricing and its impact on harmful drinking.

AS FAR back as 2009, the World Health Organization recommended a minimum unit price (MUP) as the most effective policy to reduce harmful drinking and its associated problems. MUP sets a floor price for a unit of alcohol, meaning that it would be illegal to sell alcohol below that price. This would not increase the price of every drink, only those that are currently sold below the minimum price.

European studies suggest that price rises substantially reduce alcohol consumption among young people and harmful drinkers. So what do we mean by harmful drinking? And what are the potential health benefits of introducing a minimum price for a unit of alcohol in Wales?

According to the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), harmful drinking is a pattern of alcohol consumption that increases the risk of damage to one’s physical or mental health. Drinking habits are often formed when we are young but are not set in stone. They may well change as we grow older, and many of us go through periods of harmful drinking during our lives without really thinking about the health consequences. What we do know is that drinking alcohol increases the risk of developing more than 60 different health problems, including cancer, liver disease, high blood pressure, injury and a variety of mental health conditions. It also increases the risk of causing harm to others.

Alcohol harms are rising in Wales.

Recent data shows that in 2016-17, more than 10,000 people were admitted to hospital with an alcohol-related diagnosis. Alcohol also attributed to another 35,500 admissions, an increase of 4.8 per cent for men and 3.2 per cent for women over the last five years. Each admission has an impact on the individual, their family and their quality of life, as well as a cost to the NHS. There were more than 500 alcohol-related deaths in 2016, nine per cent higher than the previous year. Half of these avoidable deaths were among those aged under 60.

Alcohol pricing needs to adapt to the changes in drinking habits that have occurred in the last few years. More people are drinking at home and there has been an increase in drinks promotions in shops. There is strong evidence that price is a key factor in the amount of alcohol consumed, and as a consequence, alcohol-related health and social harms.

Supported by this evidence, MUP is based on three fundamental principles: when the price of alcohol increases, consumption by most drinkers decreases, including hazardous and harmful drinkers; when alcohol consumption declines, rates of alcohol-related harm also decline; and, MUP targets harmful drinkers - moderate drinkers would not pay much more for alcohol. Introducing a MUP could benefit the whole population of Wales. It would not only reduce health and social problems but also help the economy through savings to the NHS.