The alcohol problem in Scotland is so significant that ground breaking measures are required.
Given the link between consumption and harm and evidence that affordability is one of the drivers of increased consumption, addressing price is an important element of any long-term strategy.
Alcohol is now 54 per cent more affordable in the UK than it was in 1980. It is possible in Scotland today to exceed the new lower risk guidelines for alcohol (14 units per week) for less than £3. This is an unacceptable position and we have a responsibility to address this problem.
There is strong international evidence that tackling price - as part of a package of measures, including education and diversion - can help reduce alcohol consumption and related harm.
The Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 was passed in June 2012.
The legislation has not yet been implemented due to a legal challenge led by the Scotch Whisky Association. The Court of Session heard the case and referred it to the Court of Justice of the European Union - (CJEU). The CJEU gave their decision on the 23 December 2015, ruling that it was for the Scottish Inner House of the Court of Session to decide on Minimum Unit Pricing. The case then returned to the Inner House on July 2016, and they upheld the Outer House decision. The Scotch Whisky Association requested leave to appeal to the Suprement Court in September 2016 and permission was granted in December 2016. The Supreme Court hearing will take place in summer 2017.
What is Minimum Unit Pricing?
Research into differing price policy options concluded that a minimum unit price is the most effective of a range of policy options. It has been recommended as a way of increasing the price of drinks such as own-brand spirits and white cider, which have high alcohol content but are usually very cheap.
Minimum unit pricing would simply set a floor price for a unit of alcohol, meaning it can't be sold for lower than that. The more alcohol a drink contains, the stronger it is and therefore the more expensive it will be.
Minimum unit pricing is not a tax; it is a targeted way of making sure alcohol is sold at a sensible price.
The effects of Minimum Unit Pricing
Minimum unit pricing will impact most on harmful drinkers - those who regularly drink more than the lower risk drinking guidelines. Those who drink within the lower risk guidelines will only be marginally affected simply because they only consume a small amount of alcohol and also because they do not tend to buy as much of the cheaper alcohol that would be most affected by a minimum unit price.
The small increase in the cost of alcohol to moderate drinkers has to be seen in the context of the total costs of alcohol misuse - estimates suggest around £900 per year for every adult in Scotland.
Almost all drinks bought in the pub are already sold well above any likely minimum price, so they wouldn't be affected. The minimum unit price of 50p per unit will mostly affect cheap white ciders and value spirits with high alcohol content which tend to be favoured by harmful drinkers.
The most recent research by the University of Sheffield (April 2016) estimated that the proposed minimum price of 50p per unit would result in the following benefits:
- Alcohol related deaths would fall by about 120 per year by year twenty of the policy(full effect)
- A fall in hospital admission of 2,000 per year by year twenty of the policy (full effect)
The modelling shows that minimum unit pricing is targeted with the greatest benefit falling on harmful drinkers, and particularily those living in poverty.
Some people may not feel that they are part of Scotland's alcohol problem, but through the introduction of minimum unit pricing, everyone will feel the economic and social benefits of the solution through healthier, happier, safer families and communities.
This landmark policy is supported by many organisations and is a significant step forward in the Scottish Government’s efforts to tackle Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol.