Scotland introduces minimum prices for alcohol, hailed by health campaigners as ‘life-saving’
The plan finally came into force this week after years of court wrangling delayed its introduction
Scotland has become the world’s first country to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol in what its government expects will be a trailblazing move following years of legal battles.
“Scotland is the first country in the world being bold enough and brave enough to introduce minimum unit pricing,” Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.
“I think we will see countries across Europe and further afield look to replicate what has been done here in Scotland,” she added, noting Ireland and Wales were eager to roll out similar schemes.
The policy, introduced on Tuesday, will set a minimum price of 50 pence (US$0.70) per unit of alcohol in a move designed to cut drink-related harm.
It has been welcomed by the medical profession and health campaigners as the biggest breakthrough in public health since the ban on smoking in public.
The new prices will, for example, see two-litre bottles of cheap, 7.5 per cent strength cider, which used to sell for £2.50 (US$3.40) treble in price to £7.50. Some supermarkets had also been selling 20-packs of four per cent strength lager in large 440ml cans for £10. These will now cost around £17.60.
“This legislation will be life-saving,” said Alison Douglas, chief executive of the Alcohol Focus Scotland charity, who predicted it would save 58 lives in the first year.
“But the effect builds over time and by year 20 – which is full effect – it will save 121 lives here in Scotland.”
Audrey Duncan, 37, a recovering alcoholic from Glasgow whose life was devastated by the addiction, said the cheap price of booze had helped fuel it.
“I don’t think it [minimum pricing] would have put me off but I certainly would have run out of money quicker,” she added.
Retailers said they expected minimal hits on some stock but had long been anticipating the scheme.
Linda Williams, proprietor of a store in Edinburgh, said it could “even out the playing field between supermarkets and local shops”.
“There will be no more heavy discounting on spirits and on big packs of beer which really have caused all the problems in the first place with alcohol,” she added.
The plan finally came into force this week after years of court wrangling delayed its introduction.
Britain’s Supreme Court last year backed the Scottish government’s move, declining an appeal by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) and other industry representatives to strike it down.
Seven judges in London unanimously ruled that such pricing is “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim” and does not breach European Union law.
That ended a half-decade legal battle which had gone all the way to the European Court of Justice in 2015.
Despite losing its appeal, a spokesperson for the SWA said the industry had worked “cooperatively” with the government to implement the scheme, “which we hope will be smooth”.
“We agree with the Scottish government that there needs to be an objective, independent and robust assessment of the impact of minimum unit pricing,” it added.
Sturgeon said she never believed it would damage Scotland’s lucrative whisky industry.
“The premium whiskies that the industry in Scotland is so renowned for are not the alcohol products that are going to be most affected by minimum pricing,” she added.