MINISTERS were warned last night not to send out "mixed messages" if, as expected, they push ahead with plans to raise the legal age for buying alcohol in shops, but not pubs.
Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary, will unveil the Scottish Government's alcohol strategy tomorrow. It is expected to include an increase in the legal age for buying alcohol from 18 to 21, but only for off-sales.
It is understood that Mr MacAskill believes that those under the age of 21 should still be allowed to buy drink in pubs and clubs but not from supermarkets and off-licences.
The Justice Secretary is also expected to advocate some kind of minimum pricing framework for off-sales in an attempt to halt cheap alcohol promotions which have, in some cases, allowed beer and cider to be sold cheaper than bottled water.
But Fiona Moriarty, the director of the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC), said the government would be sending out a mixed message if it allowed 18 to 21-year-olds to buy drink in pubs and clubs but not in off-sales.
The SRC represents supermarkets as well as smaller retailers, and Ms Moriarty said: "We need to educate and work with young people to help them understand the pleasure in enjoying alcohol responsibly and also the dangers of excess consumption.
"But this mixed message, that it is okay to drink in pubs and clubs, but that it is not okay to buy something to drink responsibly in your own home, is extremely confusing."
She added: "I would much rather see additional resources going into schools and youth and community groups to help young people understand responsible drinking and sensible consumption of alcohol.
"That would have more long-term impact than demonising alcohol for young people."
The expected move did, though, have the support of landlords and owners of pubs and clubs. Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said: "Supermarkets have failed to respond to the obviously irresponsible promotions that they have within their stores.
"And I think the government really has to take quite strong action on that."
The ministerial decision follows a successful pilot project in three towns – Armadale, Larbert and Stenhousemuir – which banned the sale of alcohol to under-21s in off-sales.
Nicola Sturgeon, the health secretary, defended the Scottish Government's approach.
She said: "The government is not anti-alcohol. But we are concerned about alcohol misuse.
"It is costing society in Scotland perhaps 2 billion a year, it has an impact on crime and antisocial behaviour, and it is taking a big toll on our health."
Scots twice as likely to kill or take own lives
ALCOHOL and drug abuse are fuelling higher rates of suicide and murder in Scotland, a report has revealed.
The study, commissioned by the Scottish Government, found Scots were almost twice as likely to kill or take their own lives compared to those living elsewhere in the UK.
Experts called for urgent action to tackle alcohol and drug misuse.
The Lesson for Mental Health Care in Scotland report, by Manchester University, found there were 18.7 suicides per 100,000 population in Scotland, compared to 10.2 in England and Wales.
Similarly, the homicide rate in Scotland was 2.12 per 100,000 people – compared to 1.23 in England and Wales.