Minimum price for alcohol set at 40p per unit
CUT-price drink will be banned from Scotland's shops under legislation set to be brought forward by ministers.
Scotland on Sunday understands that the SNP is poised to back a 40p per unit rate for all alcoholic drinks when it announces its full plans later this year. The government believes that it will stop shops from selling loss-leading cheap drink, while leaving more expensive brands untouched.
Under a 40p rate, a bottle of vodka – which contains 26 units of alcohol but can now be bought for less than 7 – would retail at a minimum of 10.40. Similarly, large bottles of cheap cider, which can be bought for less than 3, would more than double in price.
But the government said most spirits, and most wine and beer, would be unaffected by the 40p minimum since they retail at above that level.
A final decision on the exact rate will be made after a study by Sheffield University into the likely impact. But officials believe the 40p rate strikes the right balance, hitting the sale of cheap drink while not being too punitive for consumers.
Nonetheless, the SNP faces a struggle to get its plans through parliament, with neither the Tories, the Liberals or Labour yet having committed to the principle of minimum pricing.
The 40p rate may also fail to satisfy medics, many of whom believe only a 50p per unit rate will adequately cut drinking. A report in the medical journal the Lancet found last week that such a rate would cut heavy drinkers' intake by 10 per cent.
Dr Peter Terry, chairman of the BMA in Scotland, last night called for opposition parties to rally behind the measures. "Doctors witness the devastation of alcohol and the crippling effect it is having on the NHS," he said. "I hope that politicians of all parties can back the Scottish Government's alcohol strategy and support legislation on alcohol pricing."
However, the drinks industry remains opposed to the measures, even at 40p.
Gavin Partington of the Wine and Spirits Trade Association said: "Firstly, we don't think that minimum pricing in principle is the right answer. Secondly, you can't have it both ways. On the one hand, they're saying that minimum pricing isn't going to hurt people because you've set a notionally low price. In which case, what's the point? On the other, they're saying it's going to have a serious impact on drinking."
He added: "The truth is that 40p per unit for alcohol would make a very ordinary bottle of wine at 13.5 per cent abv, which equates to 10.1 units, cost a minimum of 4."
The SNP received a boost from the Greens last night, who said they would back the plans.
Green MSP Patrick Harvie said: "A minimum price policy isn't a silver bullet, but alongside other sensible changes it could play a very positive part in improving public health."
However, the other parties said they wanted to see the details of the policy before deciding whether to back it.
LibDem health spokesman Robert Brown said: "We are not against a price mechanism and we accept entirely that a serious approach is required to deal with alcohol in Scotland. But we have hostility towards the principle of minimum pricing."
Dr Richard Simpson for Labour said: "I do think we have to have something. We should have a system whereby you can't sell below cost. We need to debate whether a minimum price of 40p would help."
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: "We have commissioned the university to put together Scotland-specific research. It is on the basis of that which will decide what the minimum price will be.
"It will affect things like cheap white cider which you can currently pick up for next to nothing. You are not going to see an increase in the price of quality whisky or a good bottle of wine. Eighty to ninety per cent of wine is not going to be affected. Whereas 85 per cent of bottles of cider will be affected, and around 40 per cent of cheap vodkas," he said.
The policy is also backed by Scotland's chief medical officer Harry Burns. He said he was "an agnostic" on minimum pricing until he saw evidence on how the relative cheapness of booze led to a "mirror image" of consumption.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North