Recent improvements in alcohol-related deaths in Scotland are to be welcomed, but the fact remains that we have the highest level of alcohol consumption in the UK and one of the highest rates of liver cirrhosis in western Europe. Twenty five Scots die every week as a direct result of alcohol.
There is no “quick fix” for Scotland’s appalling record, but the Scottish Government’s approach is based on scientific evidence spanning three decades, which confirms that the best way to reduce harm is to reduce consumption. To achieve this, we need to make alcohol less affordable, less available and less visible.
There is indisputable evidence that the price of alcohol matters: if the price of alcohol goes up, alcohol-related harm goes down. The introduction of a minimum price per unit of 50p in Scotland could mean 60 fewer deaths, 1,600 fewer alcohol-related hospital admissions and about 3,500 fewer crimes in the first year alone. Minimum pricing will increase the price of the very cheapest products, such as white ciders, most often drunk by those causing most harm to themselves and society, while having very little effect on moderate drinkers’ spending.
It is disappointing but not surprising that the global alcohol producers have joined forces to mount a legal challenge to the legislation. Like their colleagues in the tobacco industry, they oppose any policies that are actually going to be effective in reducing consumption, despite their supposed commitment to tackling alcohol harm. They don’t want us to go back to a time when alcohol was carefully regulated, with restrictions on price and availability clearly communicating a message that alcohol was not an ordinary commodity.
Governments are entitled to introduce measures which they believe will best protect the health and wellbeing of the people they serve without being subject to legal threats by powerful corporations which use their considerable resources to seek to undermine evidence-based policies that have the potential to save lives.
The harm caused by alcohol to individuals, families and communities is no longer acceptable, and Scotland is leading the way in introducing evidence-based policies that will begin to turn this around. Without action on price, any other measures to reduce alcohol consumption and harm will have very limited success.
• Dr Evelyn Gillan is chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland