In an interview with the Independent on Sunday, Lansley, who is preparing to launch a new year drive aimed at ending the country’s binge drinking culture, said that deep-rooted drinking habits in some areas mean that raising the price of booze will do little to curb excess.
In an effort to show that the Government is not siding with big business on the issue, Lansley also argues in the newspaper that a minimum price of 50p per unit would hand £600m in extra revenue to drinks firms.
Lansley’s stance comes after a group of leading doctors and academics said last week that thousands of lives could be saved if cheap alcoholic drinks were made more expensive and called for the Government to bring in a minimum price for alcoholic beverages.
He said that there were “big problems” with the idea, which he said would penalise the poor, fall foul of EU competition laws, and do little to tackle the kind of dangerous drinking seen in town and city centres on Friday and Saturday nights.
Lansley said: “Are we really saying that because a bottle of vodka isn’t £8 but £12.50 they are not going to preload with a bottle of vodka for a night out when they are in clubs where they pay £5 for a drink? That is absurd. They are still going to do this binge drinking because that is a behaviour issue. We have got to do much more to focus on what this means.
He did conceded that higher prices for drink can reduce consumption but added:
”It is more likely to have a bigger proportionate impact on responsible drinkers who happen to be low-income households.”
Lansley said that the causes of binge drinking are too complex to be solved simply by raising prices. “The cost of alcohol in Britain is the same in different parts,” he said. “But we have got lots of women in the North East who are fetching up in critical units with chronic alcohol abuse and liver disease on a regular basis – far more than in Hampshire.
“There are disparities that are nothing to do with price. We need to be realistic about what it is we are trying to address, which isn’t simply if you raise the price all our problems will go away. The question is, what is the relationship between price changes and alcohol misuse? Because alcohol consumption and alcohol misuse are not on a straight line to each other.”