Everyone knows the North-East has a drink problem and this why the regions alcohol office, Balance, is backing a minimum price per unit of alcohol in England. Health and Education Editor Barry Nelson heard why the experience of minimum pricing in Canada suggests the UK should follow suit.

It is fair to say that the international brewing and spirits industry is worried about the growing clamour for minimum pricing for alcohol.

Recently efforts by the Scottish Government to bring in a 50p per unit minimum price for alcohol was challenged in the European courts by representatives of the alcohol industry and an appeal is due to be heard next February.

But Professor Tim Stockwell, an internationally recognised expert on the effects of minimum alcohol pricing from the University of Victoria, in British Columbia, Canada, was surprised when his latest research results were attacked as "false and misleading" by some sections of the press.

Prof Stockwell, who thinks some of the articles were funded by what he calls "a right-wing think-tank" says the experience of Canada suggests that setting a minimum for alcohol not only results in a fall in alcohol-related deaths and disease but the impact is even greater than British academics at Sheffield University have predicted they would be in the UK.

Prof Stockwell was one of the principal speakers at a conference at Hardwick Hall, in Sedgefield, County Durham, entitled Taking an evidence-based approach to reducing alcohol-related harm", organised by the Balance and the Association of North East Councils which was attended by national and international experts on reducing the harm caused by excessive drinking.

The North-East of England has the highest rate of alcohol-related hospital admissions in the country, almost half of all violent crime in the region is alcohol-related and alcohol harm is costing the North-East economy approximately £1.1bn each year.

Balances director, Colin Shevills is a strong supporter of minimum unit pricing of alcohol and believes lives will be lost as a result of the UK Governments decision to delay the introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP).

That was certainly the message from Prof Stockwell, who discussed his internationally known research, which details the impact of minimum pricing of alcohol in Canada.

Prof Stockwell began by explaining that minimum pricing of alcohol has been a feature of Canadian life for decades, with alcohol only sold from Government-owned liquor stores until recently.

But by studying the impact of price increase on illness and crime rates he has shown a strong link between the two.

Based on 20 years of statistical data from British Columbia - where Prof Stockwell is based - his figures showed that a 10 per cent increase in minimum pricing of alcohol led to a 16.1 per cent reduction in deaths from alcohol disease.

In a study of British Columbia between 2002 and 2009 he found that the price increase was associated with a nine per cent drop in alcohol-related hospital admissions.

Two years after the price hike he also recorded a 19 per cent reduction in hospital admissions for chronic alcohol-related illness.

Prof Stockwell also found that the price rise led to a 31 per cent fall in deaths caused by alcohol.

In the prairie state of Saskatchewan, Prof Stockwell says a 10 per increase in 2010 - which made stronger drinks more expensive - resulted in a 10.1 per cent reduction in beer consumption, a 4.6 per cent reduction in wine consumption and a 5.9 per cent drop in spirit consumption.

"There was a clear shift away from high to low strength beers and wines. Police also said that public disturbance halved and late-night violence and vandalism really came down," he adds.

In a new British Columbia study - due to be published soon - Prof Stockwell found that the 10 per cent increase in minimum price was associated with a 20 per cent reduction in alcohol-related traffic offences, an 18.5 per cent reduction in property crimes and a 10.4 per cent reduction in violent crimes.

Prof Stockwell says his research suggests that academics at Sheffield University - who have predicted that a minimum unit price for alcohol in the UK would lead to a modest fall in alcohol-related harm and disorder - have underestimated the positive effect of increasing alcohol prices.

"The Sheffield model is underestimating the health benefits of minimum pricing. They are being too cautious," he adds.

Earlier this year the Alcohol Minimum Pricing Act, cleared its final parliamentary hurdle in the Scottish Parliament when MSPs backed it by 86 votes to one, with 32 abstentions.

Recently a court has judged Scotlands proposal to set a minimum price on a unit of alcohol compatible with European law.

But the Scotch Whisky Association and the trade organisation Spirits Europe have challenged the legality of minimum pricing and their appeal is likely to be heard early next year.

In a statement the Scotch Whisky Association said: The claims made by the Canadian researchers are not supported by official dat from Satistics Canada which shows alcohol-related deaths in British Columbia rising by nine per cent in the period, not falling, as claimed.

"This compared with a drop in alcohol-related deaths in Scotland of 25 per cent since a peak in 2003. This would suggest measures already in place in Scotland to tackle alcohol misuse are working."

The Wine and Spirits Association also insists there not "a simple link between alcohol price and harm" and the industry was committed to tackling problem drinking and its consequences.