Evelyn Gillan: “The question for Scotland… is do we allow narrow corporate interests to dictate our health policy?”

The heated debate over minimum unit pricing in Scotland raises a fundamental question which requires addressing.

As a society are we prepared to regulate commercial activity to better protect public health or do we believe that the profit interests of global corporations should take precedence over the health and well-being of the people of Scotland?

Having failed to use their formidable lobbying power to prevent the passage of the minimum pricing law in Scotland, the global corporations who make up the membership of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) now seek to get the legislation struck down by the courts.

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They have mounted a major lobbying campaign in Europe to encourage member states to oppose Scotland’s plans to introduce minimum pricing, arguing that minimum pricing will discriminate against imported alcoholic drinks.

This is not the case as it will apply equally to all drinks. They have also argued that minimum pricing will have no impact on harmful drinkers using evidence from studies that are based on across-the-board price rises where heavy drinkers can trade down to cheaper drinks.

Minimum pricing is a different measure that produces different results with estimates suggesting harmful drinkers will reduce their drinking by 10.5 per cent. For someone drinking 50 units a week, this will reduce their risk of health harms.

Misrepresenting evidence and using legal challenges to prevent legislation that will deliver health benefits are tactics that are all too familiar. The question for Scotland and other countries who are experiencing historically high levels of alcohol harm, is do we allow narrow corporate interests to dictate our health policy?

• Dr Evelyn Gillan is chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland.