The Alcohol Strategy was announced eight months ago, when David Cameron called binge drinking “one of the scandals of our society”.
After months of debating, Cameron is now seeking views from ministers, industry representatives and health workers in a series of meetings until February 6, 2013.
The consultation also includes plans for a review of licensing rules so that they include a “health-related objective” for the first time.
Home Secretary Theresa May said the consultation is investigating the best ways to “tackle the drink fuelled antisocial.
She added: “The consultation is targeted explicitly at harmful drinkers, problem pubs and irresponsible shops. It is not about stopping sensible, responsible drinking or penalising responsible shops, pubs and off-licences.”
But industry figures claimed it would do just that.
Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wines and Spirits Trade Association, said: “Minimum unit pricing will punish responsible consumers with higher prices and it will do nothing to address the causes of alcohol misuse.
“It will push up prices for millions of hard-working families who are already feeling the pinch – the busy parent who buys a bottle of wine to relax after a hard week or pensioners enjoying the odd tipple in the evening.”
Paul Schaafsma, UK general manager at the UK’s largest wine company, Accolade Wines, called minimum unit pricing “a blanket tax on the poor”.
But he reserved most scorn for plans to ban multi-buy deals.
Accolade’s WineNation Report 2012, published yesterday, analysed Nielsen, CGI and Kantar data and studied 50,000 drinkers and found that the multi-buy ban already implemented in Scotland – designed to dampen consumers’ enthusiasm for bulk purchases – has in fact encouraged more shoppers to buy wine.
The report conculded that consumers purchased wine more frequently as a result of the legislation.
Schaafsma said the impact of the new rules has led retailers to switch their promotional strategy to lowering the price of single bottles, which has attracted new consumers who may not have previously chosen wine.
He said: “The restrictions imposed on alcohol retailing since the multi-buy ban in Scotland has not had the impact on alcohol sales that the Scottish government had anticipated.
“We urge the government to pursue policies that promote the education of consumers about their alcohol consumption, not blunt instruments that do not make any real difference.”
Between July 2011 and July 2012, wine volume declined by 3.1% in Scotland.
However, in England and Wales, where there was no such ban, there was a decline of 2.8%.
Therefore, given the total UK-wide trend the impact of the multibuy ban in Scotland appears to be negligible, said Schaafsma.
He added: “In line with most UK industries, what the drinks industry needs from government – north and south of the border – is smart legislation and intelligent taxation policies that promote growth, not deliver decline.”
Emily Robinson from Alcohol Concern welcomed the proposals, saying lives would be saved and the NHS and police would save money.
Meanwhile, MPs were divided over the plans.
Home Office Minister Damian Green said: "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.
“The point of having a minimum unit price rather than, say, increasing taxation, is that you can target the shops that do deliberately sell very strong drink very cheaply.
“It is just a fact of economics and indeed of life that if you put the price of a particular product up, demand for it goes down.”
But Tory MP Philip Davies accused ministers of moving towards a “nanny state”, claiming a minimum price on a unit of alcohol “won’t make a blind bit of difference”.
He added: “The vast majority of people who buy alcohol in supermarkets drink responsibly – it’s a very small minority who go out and get drunk and cause problems and indulge in drunken crime so why would we want to penalise everybody in order to try and tackle a few people going out on a Friday night and getting drunk?
“Basically what we’re saying here is we want to basically target poorer people; we want poorer people to pay more for their alcohol whilst richer people can continue paying the same amount for their alcohol. And I’m afraid to me that’s completely unacceptable.”
Andrew Opie, food director at the British Retail Consortium, added: “Where’s the evidence that imposing a blanket measure that puts up prices for all customers will make a difference? Most major retailers believe minimum pricing and controls on promotions are unfair to most customers.
“The Government should recognise the role of personal responsibility. It should not allow interfering in the market to regulate prices and promotions to become the default approach for public health policy.”