Scotland faces alcohol apocalypse - Elish Angiolini
SCOTLAND'S top law officer has hinted that she backs an increase in alcohol prices to help prevent a looming "apocalypse" from soaring drink sales.
Elish Angiolini, who is standing down as Lord Advocate in May, said hiking prices was "undoubtedly" a factor in tackling the alcohol problem.
However, she declined to explicitly back minimum pricing, which the SNP government will make a second attempt to introduce if returned to power in May's elections, after its proposals were voted down by opposition MSPs.
Ms Angiolini said the measure was for the Scottish Parliament to decide, but it was "common sense" to make alcohol less widely available.
She said: "I do think that price is a factor in that. I don't think that's a panacea. I think education, culture … but we have tried the continental approach to alcohol of having longer hours and caf culture. I don't think it has worked.
"If you look at the liberalisation of the licensing laws in the mid-Seventies and the consumption of alcohol, there is a very acute increase from that period."
Talking about criminal court cases, the law officer went on: "What I see now, in many of the cases, are both the accused and, indeed, victims purchasing very substantial quantities of very cheap alcohol.
"It could be a variety of the fruit-flavoured ones as well as strong vodka, which is consumed in quantities on a night out, which quite frankly are fatal, and it is a matter of surprise that the individuals are not just witnesses in a case, but that they are actually living to tell the tale.
"I think that that is something which is seen throughout the country, it is a real issue and I think it is a major health issue for young people.
"But from my own very narrow perspective, I think that there is a real apocalypse if we don't actually get to grips with the acceleration of the consumption of alcohol."
Ms Angiolini said in the 1970s the price of alcohol was "prohibitive", with a litre of vodka costing the equivalent today of about 45.
She said alcohol was "ever present" in virtually all violent crime, adding: "Alcohol is undoubtedly the major challenge. I suspect if we could knock the alcohol problem on the head, we could have a significant reduction of crime in this country."
Alcohol groups agreed that measures to tackle the problem were a priority.Jennifer Curran, head of policy and research for Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: "We fully support the calls from the Lord Advocate for urgent action to tackle alcohol-related violence and harm.
"There can be no argument that alcohol plays a part in a significant number of violent crimes in Scotland.
"Lives are being needlessly destroyed, and lost, because of excessive drinking.
"Alcohol-related crime costs our criminal justice and emergency services 385 million each year, not to mention the human costs of 418m. The research evidence connecting the price of alcohol with consumption and harm is undeniable.
"We must to face up to the fact alcohol is now more affordable, more available and is more heavily marketed than at any time over the last 30 years.
"Two-thirds of our alcohol is bought at off-sales for pocket-money prices, encouraging home drinking and 'pre-loading' before an evening on the town. In short, the cheaper the price of alcohol, the more we consume. For the health and wellbeing of everyone in Scotland, robust action must be taken to increase price."
Ms Curran added: "As we approach the Scottish elections, we would urge politicians from all parties to reflect on these comments from the Lord Advocate and to consider again the urgent need for a minimum unit price for alcohol to reduce the devastating effects of excessive drinking fuelled by cheap booze."
Ms Angliolini's comments came days after an NHS Health Scotland report showed Scots were drinking the equivalent of an extra 1.2 litres of pure alcohol annually compared with 15 years ago. The 11 per cent increase to 11.9 litres for everyone 16 and over is the equivalent of an extra four bottles of spirits a year.
The report said more than three in four young offenders were drunk at the time of their offence, while 70 per cent of assaults requiring emergency hospital treatment involved alcohol.
Dr Laurence Gruer, director of public health science at NHS Health Scotland, said: "This report confirms alcohol-related harm in Scotland has increased enormously since the early 1980s. Alcohol-related deaths are three times higher and hospital admissions are four times higher."
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