I am proud of progress since our internationally acclaimed Changing Scotland’s Relationship with Alcohol: A Framework for Action in 2009. We have taken bold action. On 1 May 2018, we implemented the world’s first minimum unit price for alcohol, set at 50 pence per unit. Intervening in the alcohol sales market was necessary: affordability tackles consumption, which directly drives health harms.
While minimum unit pricing will contribute towards the step-change we need to see in Scotland’s levels of alcohol-related harm, we have always been clear that it was not a ‘silver bullet’. Rather, we have a comprehensive package of measures delivered under the 2009 strategy, which I am refocusing in this updated Framework.
We have already banned multi-buy discounts and irresponsible promotions, reduced the drink-driving limit and supported a nationwide alcohol brief interventions programme. These are positive changes which have attracted international acclaim.
Since 2008/09, we have spent over £746 million on addressing higher-risk alcohol and problematic drug use which includes £53.8 million for this year; and we are also providing an additional £20 million each year for frontline alcohol and drugs services for the lifetime of this Parliament.
However, the facts speak for themselves. Alcohol-specific deaths totalled 1,120 in 2017. Taken together with the 934 drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2017, that totals 2,054 lives lost as a result of these harmful consumption behaviours.
Let me be clear – each and every one was preventable. Scotland’s families and communities are paying too high a price, we need concerted efforts; across Government, across the public and voluntary sectors, across Parliament; to turn around the harms associated with higher-risk alcohol consumption and problematic drug use.
This document sets out our national prevention aims on alcohol: the activities that will reduce consumption and minimise alcohol-related harm arising in the first place. An overarching strategy for prevention and treatment of alcohol and drugs, setting out our support for individuals, for families and for communities, will follow.
I believe there is more to do in order to protect children and young people, and to address health inequalities.
I am passionate about giving children a fair chance to flourish, in this Year of Young People and beyond. That means creating an environment which supports and enables positive health behaviours, protecting all children from alcohol-related harm. I will therefore begin consultation and engagement, in 2019, looking at the exposure of children and young people to alcohol marketing in Scotland and considering whether Scotland should put regulation of alcohol marketing on a mandatory footing. Through this work, I will be mindful of those in recovery, too. I will also urge the UK Government to act now to limit children’s exposure to broadcast alcohol advertising – or else devolve the necessary powers, so that the Scottish Parliament can take action in our children’s best interests.
There is a stark inequalities gradient to alcohol harm. Tackling poverty and inequality, as well as providing good quality and accessible support on mental health, is paramount to reducing recourse to alcohol and drugs. I will work across government to tackle head-on the inequalities in our society which can mean vulnerable people suffer most. Minimum pricing will help us do that; however, all our policies must enable us to further reduce health inequalities.
I will work towards a Scotland where less harm is caused by alcohol; where we put in place bold measures to prevent harm, and reach out with the right support for all those who need it. When we do so, it should be without judgement, and with kindness and understanding.
For too long, the stereotype of the ‘hardened Scots drinker’ has prevailed. No more. It’s time for a cultural shift towards a more balanced relationship with alcohol across our society. This updated Framework begins the next stage in that journey.
Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing
Email: Alison Ferguson