SUPERMARKETS should pay higher tax on alcohol sales to help curb problem drinking, a Devon brewer has suggested.
Patrick McCaig, part of the family which runs Otter Brewery, does not believe the Home Office's plan to introduce a minimum price for units of alcohol will be successful.
He believes a new system of taxation for the on trade (public houses) and off trade (retail sector) could have more of an impact.
He said: "I am not against the principal of minimum pricing, but I believe the way it is likely to be implemented is not the right path, and potentially illegal."
The Home Office proposal is to ban the sale of alcohol for less than 45p per unit in an effort to target heavy drinkers.
It will mean wine cannot be sold for less than around £4 a bottle, beer will be at least 90p a can and a standard size bottle of vodka will cost at least £11.70.
But Mr McCaig thinks it will just lead to increased profits for supermarkets and do nothing to support pubs where, he argues, social responsibility regarding drinking can be exercised.
"I don't think people will really notice the impact at the supermarket tills," he said.
"The increased prices will not be that significant. Instead, supermarkets will make more money and more custom will be taken away from pubs.
"These place are often at the heart of communities, and it is in the best interest of good landlords to ensure there is a happy environment for people to relax and socialise in. I would say pubs can be the best places to stop problem drinking because a good landlord will know when someone has to stop.
"What I think could work is increased taxation on alcohol sales in the off trade and something of a relaxation for the on trade.
"That way, pubs can be helped to survive and you have social responsibility being exercised to help prevent problem drinking."
Exeter-based Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin said: "The supermarkets' competitive position will be preserved for another generation until the licensed trade speaks out.
"Not only do supermarkets pay no VAT to speak of in respect of food sales, they also pay a lot less cash tax per pint than pubs because of low prices.
"Job and revenue creation for the Government requires tax equality between supermarkets, restaurants and bars. It's impossible to compete against supermarkets in the long-term unless pubs have tax parity."
The Government claims its measures will save hundreds of lives and millions of pounds of public money each year by cutting crime and health problems linked to binge drinking.
But wine-producing nations such as France, Italy and Spain are planning to take Britain to court for breaching the EU law on free trade.
Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw has criticised the policy. He said: "I'm against minimum pricing altogether because there is no evidence it will curb problem drinking, but it will penalise responsible drinkers and clobber our cider industry.
"As a life long member of Camra, I would support measures to boost pubs but don't think minimum pricing is the answer."
Home Office minister Damian Green said: "The evidence is clear – the availability of cheap alcohol contributes to harmful levels of drinking. It can't be right that it is possible to purchase a can of beer for as little as 20p. Too many of us have seen city centres on a Friday and Saturday night often become a vision of hell. A lot of this is fuelled by very cheap, very strong alcohol."