Residents have been told by supporters of a minimum unit price for alcohol that supermarkets would be hit hardest and local pubs would not be affected.
A meeting about the issue in Morpeth Town Hall on Monday night was set up by a Northumberland County Council committee and the panellists told those in attendance about the potential health and economic benefits of introducing the measure.
The political argument also raised its head, with the Labour group defending its stance on promoting the county as a place to buy cheaper alcohol than Scotland if its minimum of 50p per unit comes in as planned next April.
Prof Sue Milner, director of public health and protection, said the cost of alcohol harm in Northumberland was estimated to be £110million and increasing the price of cheap booze items is one of the ways to reduce this.
Colin Shevills, director of North East campaign group Balance, said alcohol was about 45 per cent more affordable than in 1980 and according to detailed evidence, there is a correlation between consumption levels and price. He said: “It would have little or no affect on prices in an average community pub and this would help them by closing the price difference between pubs and the cheapest supermarket deals.”
Richard Slade, of the British Institute of Innkeeping, added: “The cynical way that supermarkets promote cheap alcohol is damaging society when you see so many pubs closing across the country.”
Although no-one on the panel spoke against introducing a minimum unit price, the opposing argument was presented within a document that was handed out at the meeting.
The Wine and Spirit Trade Association argues that there is no evidence of this scheme working, it would have a disproportionate impact on low-income households and it would be complex and costly to implement.
It also claims that the Scottish Government’s legislation is subject to legal challenge.
Alnwick ward member Gordon Castle said some residents will hope this measure will be only one to come forward amid concerns that health bodies could put forward a raft of alcohol-related and licensing proposals at the same time.