Chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson has proposed enforcing a minimum price of 50 pence per unit of alcohol in a bid to reduce the effects of drinking on health and society.

In his annual report, Sir Liam says such a move could result in 3,390 fewer deaths, 97,900 fewer hospital admissions, 45,800 fewer crimes and 296,900 fewer sick days a year - leading to an annual saving of more than £1bn.

The report directly links the reduced price of alcohol over the last 20 years with increased consumption, adding that increasing the price would affect heavier drinkers far more than those who drink at lower levels, because people who drink more tend to drink cheaper drinks.

Linking drinking to social problems including family breakdown, crime and antisocial behaviour and an increasing burden on health and the NHS, Sir Liam said “passive drinking” needed to become as common a term as passive smoking.

CMO’s annual report

Download the CMO’s annual report On the State of Public Health 2008

Download the chapter on alcohol