Minimum Pricing Hailed As "Massive" Win

15 November 2017, 14:33 | Updated: 15 November 2017, 14:36

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The decision to allow minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol in Scotland has been bailed a "massive victory" for health and democracy.

Doctors and other health campaigners had supported the Scottish Government in its bid to bring in the controversial policy.

And they hailed the decision by Supreme Court justices to reject an appeal against minimum unit pricing which had been brought by the Scotch Whisky Association as being "Scotland's biggest public health breakthrough since the ban on smoking in public places", which came into force in 2006.

The Church of Scotland and the brewers of Tennent's Lager also welcomed the decision.

However, the Institute of Economic Affairs think tank branded the decision "disappointing", claiming minimum pricing is a policy which "clobbers the poor and exempts the rich".

MSPs passed the legislation that will bring in minimum unit pricing back in 2012, with the implementation of the policy put on hold as a result of the legal action.

After the ruling, Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: "Today's decision is a massive victory for Scotland's health and for our democracy. Minimum unit pricing will save the lives of hundreds of Scots and improve the lives of thousands more.

"Despite Parliament passing this legislation unopposed five years ago, the Scotch Whisky Association has consistently obstructed it, putting their members' profits over the health of the people of Scotland.

"Scotland has been leading the way on minimum unit pricing but other countries, such as Ireland and Wales, are now also actively pursuing legislation."

She added: "Minimum pricing is Scotland's biggest public health breakthrough since the ban on smoking in public places. The Scottish Government are to be applauded for determinedly seeing it through in the face of global spirits producers' attempts to deter action and delay implementation."

Research into the impact of minimum unit pricing was carried out by the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group at the University of Sheffield, with director Professor Petra Meier saying this had shown the minimum unit pricing will "reduce alcohol-related health problems in Scotland by targeting the cheap, high-strength alcohol consumed by the heaviest and highest-risk drinkers."

She added that moderate drinkers would only be "affected to a much smaller degree", and said: "It is estimated that once it has reached its full effect, the introduction of a 50p minimum unit price in Scotland would result in 120 fewer alcohol-related deaths and 2,000 fewer hospital admissions per year."

Drinks company C&C, who produce Tennent's Lager and Magners Cider, hailed the "landmark decision".

Paul Bartlett, group corporate relations director, added: "It is the right move to make, a progressive step forward in tackling the problems of alcohol misuse in Scotland, and we congratulate the Scottish Government on its perseverance."

Rooney Anand, the chief executive of brewers Greene King, urged the UK Government to consider following Scotland's lead, saying there were "clear" health benefits.

"This policy will restrict the availability of cheap, high strength, alcohol which has been causing the most damage to communities across Scotland, without impacting moderate drinkers who can continue to enjoy a drink responsibly," he stated.

"We hope the Scottish and the Welsh Governments will now implement MUP as soon as possible. We urge the UK Government to look again at the potential benefits of MUP and examine how to implement this policy and reduce high risk drinking behaviour in England in the near future."

Duncan Selbie, the chief executive of Public Health England, said the body looked forward to "learning more from the experience in Scotland".

He stated: "Our evidence review in 2016 found that minimum unit pricing targets the cheapest and strongest alcohol favoured by the young and heaviest drinkers, and is effective in reducing the devastating harm alcohol can cause."

Speaking for the Church of Scotland, the Rev Dr Richard Frazer, convener of the Kirk's Church and Society council said: "We see all too often the devastating impact that excessive use of alcohol can have on the lives of individuals and their loved ones.

"The introduction of minimum unit pricing will help to tackle this, saving lives and improving life for countless others. We hope that it will be enshrined in law as quickly as possible."

The Royal College of Psychiatrists also gave its backing, with chair of the Faculty of Addictions Psychiatry in Scotland Dr Ahmed Khan stating: "Scotland is the highest consumer of alcohol in the United Kingdom and, subsequently, has the highest mortality rates, including a fivefold rise in liver disease in the last decade, especially amongst women."

He said Scotland currently has more outlets selling alcohol than it has GP practices, and added: "The Scottish Government have been the torch bearers of progressive drug and alcohol policies worldwide.

"Internationally, people are looking to Scotland in the same way as they did regarding the public smoking ban. I look forward to implementation of this legislation which will save lives and improve the health and wellbeing of the people of Scotland."

The Scottish Licensed trade Association, which represents pubs and clubs, also welcomed the policy, with chief executive Paul Waterson stating: "Cheap priced alcohol has turned Scotland into a nation of stay-at-home drinkers."

He said almost three quarters (72%) of all drink sold in Scotland was from off-sales, with 80% of this coming from supermarkets.

Mr Waterson argued: "When people drink in uncontrolled environments, alcohol-related problems increase significantly."

He added: "Already this year we have seen in the run-up to Christmas many television adverts advertising irresponsible supermarket deals on alcohol which will seduce people into drinking more than they would normally.

"Thanks to this legislation, loss-leading of alcohol at child-friendly prices will become a thing of the past."

But Chris Snowdon, the head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said that while politicians and doctors would not be affected by minimum pricing, it would "clobber" poorer drinkers.

He said: "The Supreme Court's decision today is disappointing, but we should be thankful that the legal action has delayed the implementation of this pernicious policy by five years, thereby saving Scottish drinkers hundreds of millions of pounds.

"Minimum alcohol pricing is a policy that clobbers the poor and exempts the rich.

"Most of the beer, cider and spirits sold in the off-trade will become more expensive under a 50p minimum price, but doctors and politicians can relax. The champagne at their Christmas parties will not be affected."

The organisation Drinkers' Voice, which says it represents moderate drinkers, also hit out at the decision.

Scottish spokesman Kenny Alexander said: "The poor, the young and the moderate majority are being made to pay the price for the excessive drinking habits of a few middle aged and middle class drinkers.

"It won't be the ideologically driven Rioja drinking medics and academics who have campaigned for this measure that will feel the pinch but the average man and woman that enjoys the simple pleasure of a drink at a price they can afford."

He said: "As a Scotsman, I feel that this decision which will inevitably drive up the cost of whisky is an attack on our culture and our heritage."