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New talks on minimum alcohol price
12:07am Sunday 25th November 2012 in © Press Association 2014
David Cameron is expected to plough ahead this week with controversial plans to introduce a minimum price for alcohol of at least 40p a unit.
A consultation on the proposals, which are intended to tackle anti-social binge drinking and reduce alcohol-related illness, is expected to be launched within days.
The plans polarise opinion, with health campaigners backing the move and drinks companies warning that it will "unfairly punish" millions of people, and there are signs of divisions between ministers.
The Government announced in March that it intended to introduce a minimum price but the consultation has been beset by delays. There are fears that the move may break EU laws.
Although ministers have spoken of 40p a unit, it is unclear whether this week's publication will even propose a level for the minimum price to be set at. Some supporters of the move are calling for a minimum price as high as 50p.
As well as a minimum price per unit, ministers are planning tough curbs on multi-buy discounts which could affect people who, for example, buy wine by boxes of six.
The Prime Minister is thought to be personally committed to the idea and argued this year that a 40p minimum unit price could result in 50,000 fewer crimes a year and 900 fewer alcohol-related deaths per year by the end of the decade.
"Binge-drinking isn't some fringe issue, it accounts for half of all alcohol consumed in this country," he said in March. "The crime and violence it causes drains resources in our hospitals, generates mayhem on our streets and spreads fear in our communities."
But Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said: "It is hard to understand why the Government is pushing ahead with the consultation now, when there is a wall of opposition in Europe, a legal challenge in Scotland, a lack of any real evidence to support minimum unit pricing and concerns raised from within Cabinet itself.
"Minimum unit pricing and the proposed restrictions to promotions will unfairly punish millions of consumers and businesses in the UK, while doing nothing to tackle the root causes of alcohol misuse."