By Alex Stevenson
Proposals to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol are generating intensive debate.
Chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson suggested yesterday imposing a 50p minimum price per unit would result in significant public health benefits for Britain.
Sir Liam said there would be 3,393 fewer deaths every year and nearly 100,000 fewer hospital admissions.
But both Gordon Brown and David Cameron came out against the proposal, expressing fears such a move would punish moderate drinkers by forcing them to pay more for their alcohol.
The issue has resulted in serious opposition from some quarters.
Ian Parker-Joseph of the Libertarian party even suggested such a move would be illegal.
"The government has no place whatsoever in social engineering and interference in social lifestyle choices," he told politics.co.uk.
"I don't believe it's actually legal for this government to do it," he argued, citing EU treaty requirements outlawing price-fixing.
George Rushton, director of alcohol and drug information charity Hope UK, said a minimum pricing proposal was effective in "addressing the issue of cut-price alcohol products".
"It addresses the issue of people who drink to get drunk or at levels which are very harmful to their health," he said.
"I do think it's brave of the chief medical officer to fly this flag because it's getting considerable opposition from politicians and the drink industry."
Carys Davis of Alcohol Concern was more forthright, however. She said many failed to understand the limited impact minimum pricing would have on moderate drinkers.
"A lot of this response is based on a misunderstanding of how minimum pricing works," she said, claiming an introduction of the pricing rules would result in a moderate drinker seeing their annual alcohol bill rise by just £11.81.
"This would start having an effect now," Ms Davis added.
"It's a step forward which not only raises awareness [but also] actually does make a difference in lowering consumption."
The Liberal Democrats became the first party to break the consensus and back the plans last night.
Home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: "There is little more anti-social than lager louts on our streets tanked up on 40p supermarket cans by the dozen.
"It is crassly irresponsible for Labour and the Tories to dismiss out of hand a carefully considered proposal that could make our streets safer at night."
Under the minimum pricing rules a bottle of wine could not be sold for less than £4.50. A bottle of whisky would have to cost at least £14 while a large bottle of cider could not be sold for less than £5.50.