EU says Scottish Government legislation to introduce a 50p minimum unit price for alcohol will restrict market
A charity has hit out at the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) for sacrificing public health to protect its members' profits.
Alcohol Focus Scotland slammed the group for taking legal action against the Scotttish Government after it passed legislation to bring in a minimum price of alcohol of 50p per unit in May 2012.
Now, in a new ruling, the European Court of Justice instead recommends the introduction of alternative tax measures.
The court stated: "The Court of Justice considers that the effect of the Scottish legislation is significantly to restrict the market, and this might be avoided by the introduction of a tax measure designed to increase the price of alcohol instead of a measure imposing a minimum price per unit of alcohol."
Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said it still meant that Scotland can use minimum unit pricing to reduce alcohol harm, provided it is more effective than taxation.
“Alcohol taxes are limited in their ability to raise the price of the cheapest alcohol to a level that will actually reduce harm,” she said.
Moderate drinkers will barely notice any difference to the price they pay - Alison Douglas
“Whereas minimum pricing is a targeted measure which will make the cheapest, strongest products less affordable to heavy drinkers who are most at risk of harming themselves and others.
“Moderate drinkers will barely notice any difference to the price they pay.
“Alcohol sales and deaths rose in Scotland again last year, underlining the urgent need to get minimum pricing in place.
“In taking legal action against the Scottish Government, the Scotch Whisky Association has blocked the democratic will of the Scottish Parliament and sacrificed public health to protect their members’ profits.”
David Frost, SWA chief executive, said it settled the "EU law issues once and for all".
"This ruling opens the way to moving the debate on and allowing us to address alcohol misuse with practical measures that actually work,” he stated.
“Alcohol-related deaths have fallen by a third over the last decade in Scotland, which suggests we are already on the right path.
“We remain committed to working closely with the Scottish Government and everyone else with an interest."