CHEAP drink has been blamed for a rise in alcohol-related deaths last year, as further calls were made for minimum unit pricing to tackle Scotland’s heavy drinking culture.
There were 1,152 deaths caused by alcohol in 2014, a rise of 5 per cent on the previous year, according to new figures from the National Records of Scotland (NRS).
Around 20 people died each week during 2014, with men accounting for nearly 70 per cent of the deaths.
Widespread availability of cheap, high strength alcohol was at the heart of the problem, warned Dr Peter Bennie, chair of BMA Scotland, who expressed frustration at delays to the introduction of minimum unit pricing, which would set a floor price for a unit of alcohol.
The legislation was approved by the Scottish Parliament in 2012 but it has not yet been implemented due to a legal challenge from the Scotch Whisky Association.
Dr Bennie said: “It is disappointing to see the rise in the number of alcohol-related deaths, but it does underline the importance of tackling the culture of heavy drinking in Scotland.
“The Scottish Government has made great strides to introduce a comprehensive alcohol strategy, but it will inevitably be less effective without measures to deal with the affordability of alcohol and the proliferation of cheap, high strength alcohol that fuels heavy drinking and causes the greatest harm.”
The number of alcohol-related deaths was relatively stable during the 1980s - at roughly 600 per year - but it increased rapidly during the 1990s and early 2000s.
The highest figure was recorded in 2006 there were 1,546 alcohol-related deaths.
Barbara O’Donnell, acting chief executive at Alcohol Focus Scotland, said the figures were deeply concerning and more needed to be done to protect harmful drinkers.
She said: “Alcohol is a leading cause of ill health, injury and preventable death in Scotland. It is particularly sad that so many Scots die from alcohol-related diseases when they are only in their 40s and 50s. People are dying because alcohol is far too cheap, it’s available anytime, anywhere, and it’s too heavily promoted.”
The figures, which were published in the NRS document Scotland’s Population 2014, provide a “tragic reminder” of the nation’s poor relationship with alcohol, said Scottish Lib Dem health spokesperson Jim Hume MSP.
He said: “Whilst we share the Scottish Government’s frustration at the current legal process over this policy, there can be no let up by Scottish ministers in finding effective ways to prevent alcohol-related deaths.”
Public Health Minister Maureen Watt said there was no room for complacency on this issue and redoubled her calls for minimum unit pricing.
Ms Watt said: “There is no doubt that a key factor in alcohol related harm is affordability.
“This is why minimum unit pricing is such an important part of our package of measures to tackle the availability of cheap, high strength alcohol that causes so much damage in our communities.”