As director of SHAAP (Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems) I am constantly in touch with the concerns of front-line staff who have to deal with the harms alcohol misuse causes.
I very much welcome the evidence from Canada that the introduction of minimum unit pricing of alcohol in Vancouver has led to an immediate reduction in deaths directly attributable to alcohol and a reduction, over three years, in deaths due to chronic alcohol diseases (your report, 7 February).
It supports the Scottish Government’s case for the introduction of minimum unit pricing in Scotland, which is being challenged in court by representatives of the alcohol industry. Of course, over decades the tobacco industry rubbished research findings that might lead to regulation that would dent their profits. Gavin Hewitt of the Scotch Whisky Association has dismissed recent findings on alcohol from Professor Tim Stockwell.
These clearly indicate that raising the price of the cheapest, strongest alcohol encourages people to reduce their overall consumption and to move towards lower alcohol content products. While Mr Hewitt acknowledged that increasing price does change consumption patterns, he refuses to see the obvious link between alcohol consumption and harm to health.
In Scotland, though patterns of consumption have fluctuated over the past ten years (with some welcome recent reductions, no doubt influenced by the impact of the downturn) a considerable number of people continue to drink over recommended weekly and daily limits.
Alcohol is not an ordinary commodity. It is a drug linked to around 60 different diseases and conditions. For this reason, we need to acknowledge alcohol does cause significant harm, not just to users but their families and communities.
The Canadian research clearly demonstrates that, by setting a minimum price for alcohol in Scotland, we can protect those who are damaged most by its misuse. The industry needs to be more responsible and put the protection of people’s health ahead of profit.
Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems