Scotland should ignore Big Booze scaremongers – Stephen Jardine

A crackdown on sport sponsorship is key to tackling Scotland’s alcohol problem, writes Stephen Jardine.

With below-average temperatures and more rain forecast next week, this summer would be enough to drive you to drink. But then in Scotland, what doesn’t? Traditionally any excuse has been enough to justify us turning to booze. The result has been some of the worst alcohol death rates in the world but that might be changing.

This week we received the initial impact measurements from the first year of minimum alcohol pricing in Scotland. It was introduced to raise the cost of cheap booze in supermarkets and off-licences and hopefully cut consumption. The early signs are promising. Last year alcohol sales in Scotland hit their lowest level in 25 years. We are still drinking more than people in England and Wales but the gap is narrowing and the chairman of the British Medical Association said the signs for Scotland were “extremely encouraging”.

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There is still a long way to go. Scotland was the first country anywhere in the world to introduce minimum unit pricing so it will take years to fully analyse the impact or see the benefits. However the first figures tell us all we really need to know.

“By reducing the overall consumption of alcohol and pushing some people towards stopping alcohol, I hope we can prevent people who have liver disease developing full-blown liver failure,” a specialist consultant at Glasgow Royal Infirmary told BBC News. With 22 Scots dying every week of alcohol-related illnesses, that can only be good news. So what’s next? Having tackled the cost, we now need to address attitudes. Alcohol is simply way too prominent in our society. There is hardly a major summer event without a booze sponsor. This week the line-up for the Summer Sessions concerts in Princes Street Gardens was unveiled. All the controversy surrounded the hoardings that will be used to shield the performances from the general public. The real worry should be that the main sponsors are Carlsberg and Somersby Cider.

Alcohol sales are inextricably linked to promotion. What is promoted sells. For that reason, politicians need to start using controls on advertising and sponsorship to reduce the visibility of alcohol in society. Sport is a good place to start as alcohol simply has no place in the world of health and fitness. Alcohol marketing should be completely taken out of sport to prevent brands developing awareness with young fans. Even a subliminal association between alcohol and health is wrong and needs to be stopped.

The global alcohol brands didn’t want minimum pricing because they knew it would cut their sales and it has. Similarly they will warn sports events will be decimated without their support in the same way we were told pubs wouldn’t survive the smoking ban. Time and time again the worst fears turn out to be nothing more than that, while the benefits are endless. There is no magic cure to fix Scotland’s toxic love affair with booze, we are too far down the road for that. But the momentum is now in the right direction and that will continue if we listen to public health experts, not the booze business’ scaremongers.