Diageo slams Government's alcohol plans

DIAGEO, the world's biggest drinks company, will this week launch a scathing attack on the Scottish Government's clampdown on binge drinking, accusing it of failing to target those who misuse alcohol with a series of ineffective and unnecessary proposals that will penalise the responsible drinker.

The proposals, currently out for consultation, include banning under-21s from buying alcohol in off-sales, a minimum price of alcohol per unit, and separate alcohol checkouts in supermarkets to deter impulse buys.

But Diageo will warn that most of the proposals will not work as they "lack evidence", place the responsibility for tackling alcohol misuse on the shoulders of the drinks industry and fail to recognise the role of society, government and the individual in tackling alcohol misuse.

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The makers of Smirnoff vodka, Johnnie Walker scotch and Guinness will call for a new system of co-regulation for alcohol promotions and a rigorous code of practice.

In a strongly worded response to the Scottish Government's discussion paper, Changing Scotland's Relationship with Alcohol, Benet Slay, managing director of Diageo Great Britain, argues that creating separate checkouts for alcohol sales is unnecessary and ineffective; a one-size-fits-all blanket ban on promotions will penalise responsible drinkers; while raising the minimum age for buying alcohol to 21 is disproportionate and unfair.

He said: "Quite frankly we are frustrated and disillusioned with the way the proposals have been put together and the way the consultation has taken place. We need to target those who misuse alcohol and we need evidence-based solutions to do that, but there isn't any evidence which directly links many of the proposals in the Scottish consultation paper and alcohol harm.

"Higher prices may affect consumption, but not necessarily among the groups the Government wishes to target. The creation of a separate aisle may just drive people into different shopping patterns."

Slay admitted that the drinks firm had not analysed how much the proposals would cost the industry but said it "is a concern".

He said: "We believe the most effective approach to promoting the highest standards of responsible behaviour, across industry and for every consumer, is through a fair, transparent and effective system of co-regulation."

The financial cost of alcohol-related crime in Scotland is estimated at 379m per year, while the human cost is higher. An NHS audit of assaults presenting to hospital emergency departments found 70% involved drink.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Alcohol misuse costs Scotland at least 2.25bn every year and it's affecting our health service, our criminal justice system and our economy. It's not the drink, it's how we're drinking it and we need to take action now to rebalance our relationship with alcohol.

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"We've outlined a bold package of measures, from minimum pricing to tackling irresponsible promotions, which together we think can start to change Scotland's relationship with alcohol for the better."