NHS calls for minimum price on Scottish alcohol

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

NHS Health Scotland believes a minimum price per unit is needed on alcohol
NHS Health Scotland believes a minimum price per unit is needed on alcohol

Related tags Whisky European union Scotland

Rising alcohol sales in Scotland has strengthened the case for introducing minimum unit pricing, according to Scotland’s public health minister Aileen Campbell.

Campbell’s comments came as NHS Health Scotland reported 10.8 litres of pure alcohol was sold per adult in Scotland in 2015, some 20% higher than in England and Wales.

The report said that about three-quarters (74%) of alcohol sold in Scotland was purchased in supermarkets and off-licences and more than half (51%) was sold at less than 50p per unit.

We remain absolutely committed to introducing minimum unit pricing,” ​said Campbell. “This report adds to the wealth of evidence which supports this policy.

“Prices in pubs, bars and restaurants are increasing, but prices in shops are staying the same. We know that more than half of the alcohol – and almost three-quarters of vodka – sold in supermarkets and off-licences cost under 50p per unit.

‘Causing the most harm’

“It is that cheap, high-strength alcohol that is causing the most harm in Scotland.”

A recent evaluation of the Scottish government’s alcohol strategy by NHS Health Scotland in March this year claimed that without minimum unit pricing, its impact had been constrained.

Plans to introduce a minimum price for alcohol in Scotland came under fire in September last year, after the European Court’s advocate general Yves Bot ruled it risked infringing the EU’s free trade rules.

Minimum pricing ineffective

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has also argued that minimum pricing would be an ineffective way to tackle alcohol misuse and would damage the Scotch Whisky industry.

Scotch Whisky Association spokesman Graeme Littlejohn told FoodManufacture.co.uk: The Scottish government’s own longer-term figures suggest that the trend in alcohol-related harms in Scotland has been downwards over the last decade, with real progress being made to tackle alcohol misuse in Scotland.   

​However, more needs to be done to tackle alcohol-related harm and we look forward to working in partnership with the new Scottish government and others to continue that progress.  

​Minimum pricing, however, is not the answer. The European Court of Justice’s recent ruling made it clear that minimum pricing is a significant barrier to trade in breach of EU law, with research for the Scottish government showing that it would not reduce the number of people drinking at hazardous and harmful levels.

Meanwhile, a UK decision to quit the EU would cost the Scotch whisky industry more than £1bn in lost exports and over 40,000 jobs, warned the SWA.

SWA chief executive David Frost said: “Scotch supports around 40,000 jobs across the UK, and adds around £5bn in value to the economy.”

Alcohol sales in Scotland 2015

  • 74% sold in supermarkets and off-licences
  • 51% sold at less than 50p per unit
  • 10.8 litres of pure alcohol consumed per person
  • Sales 20% higher than UK

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