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1 March 2016, 15:21
Scotland continues to have substantially higher levels of drink-related deaths than England and Wales, despite a recent decline in the harm caused by alcohol, a new report has found.
Health experts said that while there has been a drop in alcohol consumption, this "may have slowed or even stalled in recent years''.
The Scottish Government brought in a strategy for tackling drink in 2009, but NHS Health Scotland said delays to the introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP) - which has been held up by a legal challenge - are "likely to have constrained'' its effectiveness.
The final report of the Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland's Alcohol Strategy (MESAS) programme stresses that "alcohol-related harm in Scotland has declined in recent years''.
But it also says: "Despite these recent improvements, rates of alcohol-related mortality and morbidity in Scotland continues to be higher than in the 1980s and higher than England and Wales.
"Inequalities in alcohol-related harm persist, with those living in the most deprived areas, especially men, having the highest rates.
"There is, therefore, a continued need for action to further reduce alcohol-related harm in Scotland and to address these health inequalities.
"Minimum unit pricing has not been implemented and this is likely to have constrained the strategy's contribution to declining alcohol consumption and related harm.''
The report also said there is "some evidence that the downward trends in both alcohol consumption (sales) and alcohol-related mortality may have stalled'' with no decreases in 2013 and 2014.
The amount Scots report drinking on average has fallen, the report said, going from 19.8 units a week in 2003 to 13.6 units in 2014 for men, while female consumption dropped from nine units to 7.4 a week over the same period.
It said these decreases have been brought about by a "notable decrease'' in the amount 16 to 24-year-olds are drinking, a rise in the number of people who do not drink, and a large fall in consumption by the heaviest 10% of drinkers.
Alcohol mortality started falling before the introduction of the drink strategy, with rates peaking for men in 2003 and for women in 2006, with the report saying this could be because of falling incomes.
Clare Beeston, from NHS Health Scotland, said: "The picture has improved but levels of alcohol-related harm remain high - on average 22 people in Scotland die every week because of alcohol. Individuals, families, communities and the economy are suffering because of harmful alcohol use.
"We need to continue to push for the most effective ways to reduce the amount of alcohol Scotland drinks. These are to reduce the affordability, availability and promotion of alcohol. A minimum unit price for alcohol is one of the best ways to reduce drinking in the heaviest drinkers and tackle the alcohol-related health inequalities.''
Public Health Minister Maureen Watt said: "We have seen reductions in alcohol-related harm and this is of course welcome. However harm rates are still higher than they were 20 years ago and higher than in England and Wales, so now is not the time to be complacent.
"The report highlights the need for continued action to tackle alcohol-related harm. We will be introducing the next phase of our alcohol framework later this year which will build on the progress made so far. This evaluation will help to shape and focus future policy in the most effective manner possible.
"Given the link between consumption and harm, and evidence that affordability is a key driver of increased consumption, addressing price is an important element of any long-term strategy to tackle alcohol misuse and as such we remain committed to introducing minimum unit pricing.''