MORE than 80 per cent of blended whiskies bought in shops in Scotland will rise in price as a result of new minimum pricing laws backed by MSPs.
Official figures show the controversial policy will also cost drinkers an average of an extra £30 a year each if the Scottish Government brings in a 50p per unit charge.
Whisky makers claimed the new figures showed that ministers had underplayed the impact, saying they confirmed that, as well as cheap alcohol like vodka and cider, well-known “premium” brands would end up costing more, with most customers affected. All of the country’s favourite spirits and beers will rise in price when the new measure is introduced.
The new figures are revealed in a 127-page impact assessment which the Scottish Government has sent to the European Commission to allow member states to scrutinise the plans to see if they comply with free trade laws. Although the government intends to introduce the new pricing next April, the proposal still needs to withstand a legal challenge from the drinks industry, which argues it contravenes European Union competition law.
The assessment acknowledges that the new laws may act as “an incentive” for drinkers to purchase alcohol via the internet from outside Scotland or to cross the Border for cheaper supplies, damaging local retailers.
Overall, the impact assessment concludes that 73 per cent of the total alcohol market currently retails at below 50p a unit and will, therefore, be hit by the new law.
For blended whiskies, 85 per cent of the market will have to rise in price, including the two most popular brands, Famous Grouse and Bell’s. With a minimum unit price of 50p, a 70cl bottle of blended whisky will have to be sold for no less than £14. Many supermarkets currently sell branded blends for around £10 per bottle.
For more expensive malt whiskies, only 3 per cent will have to be increased in price, the figures show, as nearly all bottles already retail at above the 50p a unit.
As regards other spirits, 92 per cent of the vodkas, 87 per cent of gins, and 82 per cent of brandies will also be more expensive.
For wine, 66 per cent of sales currently retail for below 50p a unit, meaning that two out of every three bottles currently bought will rise in price.
For standard strength beer, the figures show that 88 per cent of the market will have to be marked up in price.
The assessment says that once the ban on discounted drinks – introduced last year – is factored in, consumption will fall by 7.8 per cent. If drinkers want to keep on consuming at current levels, they will have to pay an average of an extra £29.56 every year.
Minimum pricing, which made its second passage through parliament in May after it was defeated in 2010 when the SNP was a minority government, will be ditched after six years if the policy fails, under a “sunset clause” in the legislation.
Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon has argued that price rises are a necessary part of bringing down harmful drinking rates in Scotland. Statistics used by the Scottish Government show that drinking rates have risen by 11 per cent since 1994, with alcohol now 44 per cent cheaper than it was in the 1980s. The report sent to the European Commission also shows how the increasing affordability of alcohol has tracked a rise in alcohol-related hospital episodes. Ministers argue specific remedies are required in Scotland, following figures which show 23 per cent more alcohol is sold per adult in Scotland than in England and Wales.
But Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said the 50p rate would end up hitting responsible drinkers as well as problem drinkers, while also damaging one of Scotland’s most important industries.
He said: “Scottish ministers have repeatedly claimed that Scotch whisky as a premium product will not be affected by minimum unit pricing. The truth is now out.
“Moderate drinkers are going to pay heavily for a misguided policy that will be shown to be ineffective in addressing harm among hazardous and harmful drinkers where the problems lie.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We believe minimum pricing to be the best way of tackling Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
“For it to be successful, it has to be set at a price that will have an effect on the current price of alcohol. Alcohol has become increasingly more affordable over recent years. Data shows that 73 per cent of pure alcohol sold in the off-trade was at 50p a unit or less. It is expected that alcohol prices will have increased by the time the minimum price is introduced in 2013.
“In introducing the policy we have to ensure it is proportionate, and we believe a 50p a unit minimum price achieves this. We know that we need to be able to balance the scale of market intervention with the health benefits which will flow, and are confident we are able to do so.”
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