Support Grows In U.K. For Higher Taxes On Alcohol : Shots - Health News Heavy drinking is taking a big toll in the U.K. Now there's growing support for an increase in taxes on booze, beer and wine to curb what some say is a major public health problem.
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Support Grows In U.K. For Higher Taxes On Alcohol

A British man quaffs a cut-price pint last year. Matt Cardy/Getty Images hide caption

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Matt Cardy/Getty Images

A British man quaffs a cut-price pint last year.

Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Forget the worst snowfall to sock England in years. The real storm to watch in the U.K. these days is the one over what to do about the rising toll alcohol abuse is taking on the nation's health.

A recent report found that treating alcohol-related health problems is costing the country's health service about 2.7 billion pounds (or $4.3 billion) a year, twice the expense in 2001.

The root of the problem? Blokes and lasses in the U.K. are drinking a lot more than they used to--the equivalent of 9.5 liters of pure alcohol a year, almost triple the amount consumed just after World War II. Thirty-one percent of men drink "hazardously" or "harmfully," a government survey found. The comparable figure for women is 21 percent.

Now there's growing support to raise taxes on booze, wine and beer to curb heavy drinking. A proposal in Parliament would increase taxes in line with a drink's alcohol content, which could make the minimum price for a fairly typical bottle of red wine about 3.60 pounds (or $5.77). That sort of tax, supporters argue, would lead to less drinking and encourage consumption of weaker alcoholic beverages.

Alcohol producers oppose the idea, of course. But the U.K.' expert panel that assesses new medical technology supports the tax idea, saying it would save lives without placing an undue burden on moderate drinkers.

Dr. Peter Carter, CEO of the Royal College of Nursing, tells the Guardian, "Minimum pricing is essential and must be introduced alongside measures on labelling, sales and advertising, as part of an effective mandatory code." In a separate piece for the Guardian's Web site, Carter writes, "Attitudes towards smoking have changed, and so society's attitude to alcohol can too. There needs to be a cultural shift towards safer drinking, especially among younger people...."