A Northumberland MP has backed calls for an alcohol minimum unit price after going a month without drinking.
Hexham Conservative Guy Opperman has given his support to moves which the Government announced in 2012 in a bid to combat binge drinking and the harm caused by alcohol, only to shelve last year, having taken part in the Dry January campaign.
The MP has also spoken of the “damaging” effects of alcohol abuse - as figures put the cost to the region’s economy at over £1bn a year, on police and communities, as well as the NHS - putting increased pressure on hospitals.
Mr Opperman said: “I’m a strong supporter of policies to alleviate the problems caused by alcohol abuse.
“A minimum unit price would restrict consumption by the most vulnerable groups and it is the responsibility of society to look after those who struggle to look after themselves. I’m a Conservative, free-market favouring politician, but I accept that this is an area in which the state needs to intervene.
“It’s not right when the most vulnerable people in our society can buy alcohol cheaper than bottled water and, as an MP, I consider it my duty to fight for this change.
“My constituency, Hexham, doesn’t have a particular problem with alcohol and relatively limited experience of liver damage, but I’m more than aware of the impact on the wider North East region.
“There are huge impacts on young people living nearby, with the North East having the highest proportion of young people receiving alcohol treatment services, and this is part of the reason I’m behind a minimum unit price.
“There is, of course, a role for personal choice, but I think the state needs to do more.
“I’m okay with people drinking in moderation, it’s the abuse of alcohol I find worrying and that causes problems.
“I’m talking to my local Tesco about their low cost deals, which encourage irresponsible drinking, and I think the state needs to intervene over price – alcohol is not something we should make totally illegal, but we should try harder to control its misuse.”
Mr Opperman took part in the Alcohol Concern campaign which was promoted in the North East by Balance, the North East Alcohol Office.
Figures from Balance put the cost of the impact of alcohol in the North East at an estimated £1.1bn each year.
In 2011/12, alcohol-related crime and licensing cost £296.31m, with an estimated 208,853 recorded alcohol-related crimes in the region, and alcohol misuse cost the NHS £264.97m.
Campaigners have called for a minimum price for alcohol of around 50p a unit, saying it would reduce hospital admissions, deaths and crime.
The MP said: “I spent years working as a prosecutor and have seen the damaging effects of alcohol misuse and abuse on our police forces and the communities they protect.
“I’ve also seen the impact drinking has on our NHS and the extra pressure this puts on our hospitals.”
Mr Opperman added: “Alcohol is addictive and has become very much an intrinsic part of many social situations. Drinking alcohol in certain situations is a way of life, a habit, but one that is very beneficial to break.”