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A HAMPSHIRE doctor has welcomed plans to introduce a minimum price for alcohol.

The government will later today unveil proposals to impose a minimum price of 45p per unit of alcohol.

Multi-buy deals in supermarkets and off-licences could also be banned, under proposals being put out for consultation.

Home Secretary Theresa May is outlining the package in an effort to ''turn the tide'' on a culture of irresponsible drinking estimated to cost the taxpayer £21 billion annually.

Dr Mark Wright, a consultant hepatologist at Southampton General Hospital, said: ''This is a very positive step which will have a significant impact on the heaviest problem drinkers without really affecting those with a more moderate intake and I'm sure all liver doctors will welcome it.

''Most importantly, it is good to see the Government taking the lead with this massive problem - the prior strategy of leaving the regulation of alcohol marketing in the hands of drinks manufacturers made about as much sense as suggesting the weapons industry try and broker a Middle East peace deal.''

Officials said it was currently possible to buy a can of lager for as little as 20p, and a two litre bottle of cider for £1.69.

More than a million crimes and 1.2 million hospital admissions were linked to alcohol last year.

The Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA), made up of 32 medical and counselling organisations, welcomed the step.

But chairman Professor Sir Ian Gilmore said the minimum unit price should be 50p rather than 45p.

''The evidence shows us that heavy drinkers and young drinkers are more affected by higher alcohol prices than moderate drinkers,'' he said.

''According to the University of Sheffield, a minimum unit price of 50p would reduce total alcohol consumption by 6.7%, saving around 20,000 hospital admissions in the first year.''

However, the drinks industry warned that the 45p threshold would hit modest consumers hard, without addressing the underlying problems.

Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine & Spirit Trade Association chief executive, said: ''While the Government may be consulting on 45p consumers should be aware that the final minimum unit price could be much higher than that.

''In the Spring we were told it would be 40p, it's already 45p, we know that health groups are calling for a price of at least 50p and the Scottish Government has already proposed a 50p minimum unit price.

''The impact at 50p would see 65% of prices in supermarkets and off-licences rise with a bottle of vodka increasing in price from £9 to £13.13.''

Home Office officials insisted the consultation was targeted at ''harmful drinkers, problem pubs and irresponsible shops''.

''Those who enjoy a quiet drink or two have nothing to fear from our proposals.''

Daily Echo: Minimum alcohol prices