Heavy drinkers buy more than two-thirds of the booze sold in England, reveals new research.
An astonishing 68 per cent of revenue from alcohol is generated by people classed as imbibing at risky levels, according to the study.
If everyone kept to UK guidelines of consuming no more than 14 units a week – seven glasses of wine or six pints of beer – sales would drop by £13 billion (38 per cent).
The average price of a pint in a pub would have to rise by £2.64 – and a supermarket bottle of wine by £4.36 – to maintain current takings.
A higher proportion of sales in supermarkets and off-licences (81 per cent) are to those drinking above recommended levels compared to pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants (60 per cent), according to the study.
It also found heavy drinkers generate a greater share of revenue for producers of beer (77 per cent), cider (70 per cent) and wine (66 per cent) than spirits (50 per cent).
It backs doctors’ claims the scourge of cheap booze in shops is triggering a disease epidemic.
They warned 12 months ago that almost 63,000 people in England will die over the next five years from liver problems linked to binge drinking.
Drinkers consuming more than the Government’s low-risk guideline make up 25 per cent of the population – yet provide most of the cash.
Colin Angus, a research fellow at Sheffield University’s Alcohol Research Group, said: “Our analysis shows if everyone in England drank within the guidelines the average price of a pint in a pub would have to rise by £2.64 and a bottle of wine in the supermarket by £4.36, in order to maintain current levels of revenue for the alcohol industry.
“The size of these increases cast serious doubt on the industry’s claims that it supports moderate drinking.”
The study, published in the journal Addiction, also showed four per cent of the population drinking at levels identified as ‘harmful’ account for almost a quarter (23%) of the total value of all alcohol sold.
It highlights a conflict of interest in the industry’s involvement in developing government alcohol policy.
Lead author Aveek Bhattacharya, policy analyst at the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said: “Alcohol causes 24,000 deaths and over 1.1 million hospital admissions each year in England, at a cost of £3.5 billion to the NHS.
“Yet policies to address this harm, like minimum unit pricing and raising alcohol duty, have been resisted at every turn by the alcohol industry.
“Our analysis suggests this may be because many drinks companies realise a significant reduction in harmful drinking would be financially ruinous.”
“The government should recognise just how much the industry has to lose from effective alcohol policy, and be more wary of its attempts to derail meaningful action through lobbying and offers of voluntary partnership.
“Protecting alcohol industry profits should not be the objective of public policy – previous research has shown that reducing alcohol consumption would not only save lives and benefit the exchequer, but could also boost the economy and create jobs.”
Last year a study found Brits are among the worst binge drinkers in Europe. Our men and women came second and third for over-indulgence out of 21 countries.
The Portuguese topped both tables – with the Netherlands also ahead of the UK for women.
British men drink three times as much as the average European woman, the researchers discovered.
Two years ago the Chief Medical Officer’s revised drinking guidelines advised it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis to protect the health of both men and women.
A unit is equivalent to 10ml of pure alcohol – a shot of spirits or around half a pint of beer.
In May 2018, minimum unit pricing came into force in Scotland, having been delayed for six years by legal challenges led by the Scotch Whisky Association.
In 2012, the UK Government announced plans to introduce minimum unit pricing in the rest of the UK – only to reverse this plan following fierce lobbying from the alcohol industry.
Beer duty is 16 per cent lower today in real terms than in 2012 – as a result of heavy industry lobbying.