The Chief Medical Officer has called for a fixed minimum price to be applied to alcohol to tackle binge drinking, but critics say all-day licensing is the problem.
Sir Liam Donaldson has told the Government that a minimum price of 50p per unit should be applied to all alcoholic drinks.
The Government has not embraced the idea, stating that it does not want to punish the majority of drinkers for the excesses of a minority.
But Sir Liam says while the policy would only add around one pound to the monthly bills of moderate drinkers, it would have a significant impact on alcohol-related hospital admissions.
Announcing the recommendations in his 2008 Annual Report, Sir Liam said: “England has a drink problem and the whole of society bears the burden. The passive effects of heavy drinking on innocent parties are easily underestimated and frequently ignored.
“The concept of passive drinking and the devastating collateral effect that alcohol can have on others must be addressed on a national scale. Cheap alcohol is killing us as never before.”
Sir Liam also recommends in his report: “Licensing laws should reflect the full impact of heavy drinking, making public health considerations central to licensing.”
In 2003 the Government controversially relaxed the laws on alcohol licensing, so that pubs and bars could apply for 24-hour licences.
Although ministers hoped the measures would lead to a continental-style café culture in the UK, a senior police officer said last year that they had made some towns “like the Wild West”.
Police, councils and health services said last year that they had seen either the same or increased alcohol-related problems since the laws changed.
Statistics released earlier this year showed that over a third of UK adults drink more than the recommended daily alcohol allowance at least once a week despite having awareness of the dangers.
Figures emerging today show that the number of children treated for alcohol addiction rose from 1,902 in 2005/6 to 3,727 in 2007/8.
Commentator and author Melanie Phillips responded to Sir Liam’s latest recommendations: “There is no doubt that the cheap price of alcohol has contributed to the phenomenon by putting such drinks within reach of more people. But price is surely only one element in this story.
“The real reason why drinking has gone through the roof is the Government’s irresponsible deregulation of alcohol, which has turned it into an everyday commodity.”