New blitz on cut-price booze

SUPERMARKETS and off-licences face being banned from selling cheap, high-strength booze as the Scottish Government steps up its drive against binge-drinking.

The SNP is drawing up plans to set minimum prices for every drink, based on alcohol content , in order to outlaw "cheaper than water" discount deals.

Cheap, strong ciders and high-strength continental lagers, often seen as the drink of choice by those wanting to get drunk quickly, are among those likely to see the biggest price hike.

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Off-licences also face the prospect of being banned from selling alcohol to anyone under 21 as part of the plans.

Both proposals would be set out as part of the Government's strategy on alcohol and be subject to consultation.

The minimum price level of any particular drink would be set according to its alcohol by volume, a measure of the percentage content of alcohol in a drink.

Soon after the SNP's victory in last year's elections, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill announced plans to clamp down on irresponsible cut-price promotions in off-licences in addition to the measures already passed by the Scottish Parliament to outlaw cheap deals in pubs.

He later launched an attack on off-licences and supermarkets selling cans of beer "cheaper than water". The Government has promoted a series of measures aimed at changing Scotland's attitude to drink, including restrictions on supermarket displays of alcohol and the "polluter pays" idea of making pubs and clubs foot the bill for extra late-night policing.

It is now drawing up a long-term alcohol strategy, looking at issues such as availability, accessibility and age of purchase.

Ministers are unlikely to push for a general raising of the current 18 age limit because they believe drinking in the controlled surroundings of a pub or hotel is not such a problem.

But a higher age limit of 21 on buying booze from off-licences and supermarkets is being seen as a way of helping to tackle the problem of binge drinking and antisocial behaviour.

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Public Health Minister Shona Robison said earlier this week: "At this stage, nothing has been ruled in and nothing has been ruled out."

But a senior government source said: "It's very unlikely we would go for a blanket raising of the age limit, but when it comes to off-licences we could be persuaded that was a sensible move.

"It's what a lot of off-licences and supermarkets are already doing themselves." A ban on off-sales to under-21s could help combat a trend for young people to buy cheap alcohol in off-licences and supermarkets and begin drinking at home before heading to pubs and clubs.

Tom Wood, chairman of Action on Alcohol and Drugs in Edinburgh, said: "These measures have worked elsewhere and the Government is absolutely right to consider them.

"The real problem with alcohol lies not in the pubs and clubs but in young people drinking cheap alcohol in the streets, and that is being bought in off-licences and supermarkets."

Nazar Farid, 35, who sells alcohol from his shop Euro News on Cockburn Street, said he would back the government proposals.

"There's a big problem with under-age drinking and shopkeepers will be better off when the age goes up to 21. At 17, 18 or 19 it's very difficult to tell if someone is old enough," he said.

Nigel Duncan, of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: "The proposals might have an impact on shopkeepers in Edinburgh, but we have to look to the greater good, and if it keeps drunken louts off the streets then maybe we're pointing in the right direction."


Prices from two shops chosen at random:

Bottle White Storm cider 1litre – 1.49

Can Tennent's Lager – 1.10

Bottle WKD – 1.49

Bottle White Star cider – 2.29

Bottle 70cl Smirnoff Ice – 3.49