Minimum liquor price law outlook grim

Despite ongoing work on a minimum alcohol price, a proposal to introduce a pricing regime looks set to fail.

Justice Ministry officials are running two meetings this week with industry leaders on a plan that would drive up the cost of some liquor.

Prime Minister John Key appeared opposed to the proposal, saying some people would switch to the lowest quality alcohol rather than drink any less volume.

"I am not convinced minimum pricing will do that much," he said.

Labour's justice spokesman Charles Chauvel said that, like tobacco, the price of alcohol had a big influence on how often and how much people drink.

"It's time to get serious about the pricing issue if we're going to make any significant impact on our binge drinking culture."

Labour has drafted an amendment to the alcohol legislation which would introduce a minimum pricing regime.

ACT Party leader John Banks has called for a boycott on the amendment which he said was too broad and would punish those who drank responsibly.

"And because a minimum price is not a tax, all the additional revenue from a price increase will flow straight out of consumers' pockets, into the hands of liquor companies and retailers," he said.

But the Green Party and Maori Party also back minimum pricing.

That leaves United Future MP Peter Dunne with the deciding vote.

Dunne has previously stated he was unconvinced a minimum pricing regime would have the desired affect.

However, as Associate Health Minister he won't have a "defined position" until he receives advice from the department, a spokesman said.

Key said Scandinavia had tried minimum pricing and it wasn't terribly successful.

"If you look at Scandinavia, I remember going over there. Alcohol prices were very expensive but it didn't stop people getting wasted."

Addiction expert Doug Sellman said it was "embarrassing hearing the prime minister making unsubstantiated and defensive statements to counter effective alcohol policies."

Key's statements "reek" of industry influence, he said.

Minimum pricing tended to focus on low-cost high-alcohol products, he said.

Stuff