Action on Scotland's drink 'time bomb'


The Scottish Government today launched its new approach to tackling alcohol misuse with the aim of changing Scotland's relationship with drink.

Key proposals in the consultation document include:

  • Raising the minimum age for off-sales alcohol purchases to 21
  • Setting a minimum price at which a unit of alcohol can be sold
  • Ending 'three for the price of two' type promotions, which encourage impulse buying of extra alcohol
  • A 'social responsibility fee' for some alcohol retailers to help pay for the consequences of alcohol misuse and reduce the burden on the general taxpayer
  • Introducing alcohol-only checkouts in large off-sales premises, so that alcohol, like cigarettes, is thought of as a special case and not 'just another product'
  • Confirmation of a record £85 million increase in alcohol prevention, treatment and support services, bringing total spend to £120 million over the next three years (as previously announced as part of the Spending Review)

Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing Nicola Sturgeon said:

"The Scottish Government is determined to tackle alcohol misuse. People across all sections of society, of all ages, are drinking ever greater quantities of stronger alcoholic drinks. It should come as no surprise that alcohol-related health problems have risen hand-in-hand with this increased consumption.

"The cost of alcohol misuse to our health service, our justice services and our economy is enormous and growing. The cost to our families, our communities and our society is incalculable.

"Now is the time for action to defuse the health time-bomb alcohol misuse is storing up for the future.

"We believe that by raising the age for off-sales purchase of alcohol to 21, together with better enforcement, we will reduce excessive consumption among young people.

"Setting a minimum price for a unit of alcohol will mean price better reflects the strength of alcoholic drinks. This will end the heavy discounting which allows strong drink to be sold cheaper than bottled water.

"I believe this country has so much potential, but we need a healthier relationship with alcohol if we are to maximise it. We all have a personal responsibility to drink sensibly but government also has a responsibility to show leadership.

"We are not anti-alcohol - but we are concerned about alcohol misuse. Today we are putting forward our ideas for tackling this issue. We want to hear as many views as possible, because we all have an interest in getting to grips with this situation."

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said:

"We can no longer sit back and let alcohol misuse continue to take its shocking toll on our criminal justice system, health service and economy. In criminal justice alone we know that two-thirds of murders are fuelled by drink and almost half of prisoners admitting to being drunk when they offended,

"Alcohol is part of Scottish culture, and we value the contribution of the industry to our economy and national life, but we've got our drinking out of kilter. It's not the drink, it's how we're drinking it. I believe these proposals will help us build on the changes brought in by the Licensing Act, such as ending happy hours in pubs and clubs and bringing in separate display areas for alcohol.

"They can kick-start the long term cultural shift in our society that we need. For example our Social Responsibility Fee can help pay for the costs of alcohol misuse, while minimum pricing will reduce the availability of high strength low cost alcohol .

"I'd encourage everyone to take the time to get involved, look at these proposals and think about your own alcohol consumption. Together we can help get Scotland's relationship with alcohol back on the level."

The consultation document refers to many statistics that reinforce the need for a new approach to tackling alcohol misuse, including:

  • The total cost of alcohol misuse in Scotland is estimated at £2.25 billion per year - £500 for every adult living in Scotland
  • Alcohol-related visits to Scottish hospitals have increased by almost 50 per cent over the last decade and alcohol-related death rates have more than doubled
  • Scotland has one of the fastest growing liver cirrhosis death rates in the world at a time when cirrhosis rates in most of Western Europe are falling
  • Almost half (45 per cent) of Scottish prisoners in 2007 said they were drunk at the time of the offence
  • 95 per cent of respondents to the Scottish Crime and Victimisation Survey (SCVS) 2006 saw alcohol abuse in Scotland as a problem
  • Alcohol is a contributory factor in one in three divorces
  • 65,000 children are living with a parent or carer who has an alcohol problem

Ministers launched the consultation, which will run until September 9, in Armadale, West Lothian, which recently ran a successful six-week pilot in which the purchase of off-sales alcohol was restricted to over-21s at weekends. The trial resulted in a drop in calls about antisocial behaviour, youth drinking and vandalism.

Following the consultation, the Scottish Government envisages legislating in time for many of the measures to coincide with the new Licensing Act coming into force on September 1, 2009.