Minimum pricing for alcohol in Scotland arrives after long wait

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After five years of legal battles, a minimum price of 50p per unit will be set from next week

24th April 2018 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

The long awaited arrival of minimum pricing for alcohol in Scotland is almost here.

Plans to increase the cost of alcohol in a bid to cut the country’s consumption were first revealed more than five years ago.

However a lengthy legal battle with alcohol producers, led by the Scotch Whisky Association, followed after the Scottish Parliament introducing proposed legislation in 2012.

The Supreme Court finally ruled last November that challenges by industry bosses – citing EU legislation – were not valid and that a minimum price for alcohol could be introduced.

The decision was welcomed by Scottish charities who have long highlighted the need for control on alcohol in a bid to improve the nation’s health.

The new legislation will come into force on Tuesday 1 May, with a price of at least 50p per unit set by the Scottish Government.

But what does this mean for consumers, and what effect will increased alcohol prices have on the nation’s health?

Scotland’s dark relationship with drink

  • Alcohol was a factor in 3,705 deaths in Scotland in 2015
  • This means that  6.5% or around one in 15 of the deaths for the whole of Scotland in 2015 (57,327), were caused by alcohol
  • One in four people (26%) drink at hazardous or harmful levels (defined as drinking more than 14 units per week)
  • In over two fifths (42%) of violent crime, the victim said the offender was under the influence of alcohol
  • Alcohol harm costs Scotland £3.6 billion a year in health, social care, crime and wider costs

The new laws will see a bottle of wine at 12.5% sold for a minimum of £4.69 so in essence many wine drinkers are unlikely to see large rises at the till.

However supermarket own-brand spirits are set to rise in price by around a quarter, and some strong ciders could double in price.

The laws are targeted at curbing the consumption of cheap, high strength drinks and Alcohol Focus, which has led the campaign for minimum pricing, has admitted the impact on moderate drinkers will be minimal, however lives will be saved.

“Minimum pricing targets the most harmful drinkers because they buy most of the cheapest, strongest alcohol like white ciders and own-brand spirits,” said chief executive Alison Douglas.

“It is estimated that the heaviest drinkers in our poorest communities will spend around £88 less per year under a 50p minimum price as their consumption will fall due to increased prices. It is very unlikely they will move on to other substances, such as illegal drugs.

“For people drinking heavily, even small reductions can have big health benefits. The impact on moderate drinkers, meanwhile, is minimal – it is estimated they will spend just an extra £2 per year.”

Estimated new prices of alcohol

£14 for a 700ml bottle of whisky (37.5% ABV)

£1 for a 500ml can of lager (4%)

£2.50 for one litre bottle of cider (5%)

£4.69 for a 750ml bottle of red wine (12.5%)

£13.13 for a 700ml bottle of vodka (37.5%)

The move was also welcomed by Cancer Research UK, which has highlighted alcohol use can increase the risk of an array of cancers.

Cancer Research UK's cancer prevention expert Linda Bauld said: "Alcohol is linked to seven types of cancer including breast and bowel cancer, and the more you drink the greater your risk of cancer.”

However the Scottish Government has faced claims that the price of 50p per unit is too low, and will not do enough to prevent people from drinking too much. Academics have proposed a price of up to 70p per unit.

Speaking last month, Dr Eric Carlin, director of research experts Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems, said it is important that the price is regularly reviewed.

“We want to see every two years a review based on what’s happening with prices and with the policy more generally,” he said. “At some point I think we are going to see the rate reviewed upwards.”

Those looking to take advantage of lower prices don’t have long to act, with the Scottish Government warning retailers that there will be no grace period for new prices to be implemented.