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Scotland to Become World’s First Country to Set Minimum Price for Alcohol

Scotland is set to bring in a minimum price for alcohol after a five-year legal dispute with the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA).

The UK Supreme Court today ruled that the legislation — put forward in 2012 — is legal on health grounds under EU law, calling it a "proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim".

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Scotland will become the first country in the world to establish a minimum price per unit on alcohol when the legislation is expected to pass early next year. Wales will soon follow — increasing pressure on English ministers to do the same.

The additional charge will not be in the form of a tax, and any revenue collected will go straight to the retailer.

First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that she was “absolutely delighted” with the ruling, calling minimum alcohol pricing a “bold and necessary move to improve public health.”

The SWA claimed the move was a “restriction on trade,” having fought the ruling backed by the European drinks industry. However, they have now accepted the Supreme Court ruling.

The Guardian reports that minimum pricing is likely to be 50p a unit. In Scotland, some drinks are available for as low as 18p per unit, according to Shona Robison, the Scottish health secretary.

“This is a historic and far-reaching judgment and a landmark moment in our ambition to turn around Scotland’s troubled relationship with alcohol,” said Robison. “Given the clear and proven link between consumption and harm, minimum pricing is the most effective and efficient way to tackle the cheap, high-strength alcohol that causes so much damage to so many families.”

In 2016, there were 1,265 alcohol-related deaths in Scotland, a 10% increase from 1,150 deaths the previous year. Alcohol misuse costs Scotland £3.6 billion every year, averaging at £900 per person. The problem is worse in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK too — 17% more alcohol was sold in Scotland than in England and Wales last year.

Alcohol abuse can often prove most harmful for the poorest parts of society. A study led by the University of Glasgow and published in The Lancet Public Health shows that increased alcohol consumption affects poorer communities disproportionately. In advantaged areas, excessive drinking let to a seven-fold increase in harm. But in deprived areas, the harm was increased eleven-fold.

“Experiencing poverty may impact on health, not only through leading an unhealthy lifestyle but also as a direct consequence of poor material circumstances and psychosocial stresses,” said Dr. Vittal Katikireddi, the lead author of the study. “Poverty may therefore reduce resilience to disease, predisposing people to greater health harms of alcohol.”  

The fight for a minimum alcohol charge has been a long road for the Scottish government. But today they can celebrate an important victory — though perhaps not with a trip down the pub.

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