Leader: A price worth paying to cure nation’s drink problem

The government hopes that Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling will begin to change Scots' attitudes to drink. Picture: Matt Cardy/Getty
The government hopes that Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling will begin to change Scots' attitudes to drink. Picture: Matt Cardy/Getty
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As a nation, we buy enough alcohol for every single person in the country to exceed the recommended maximum every week of the year. The average Scot buys more than 20 units of alcohol a week, compared with the guideline figure of 14 units. And, every week, an average of 24 Scots die because of alcohol-related health problems. It is fair to say that Scotland has a drink problem.

So this week’s ruling by the Supreme Court on the legality of the Scottish Government’s attempt to introduce minimum unit pricing could be a momentous event in the history of this country and, indeed, the world.

If the court throws out objections from the drinks industry and allows the legislation to take effect, Scotland will become the first place on the planet to use this method of reducing alcohol consumption. And, let’s face it, if it works in Scotland, it will probably work anywhere.

The harm caused by alcohol weighs heavy on society as a whole. Health experts say a minimum unit price would save lives, reduce hospital admissions and even cut the crime rate.

How effective it will be in the real world remains to be seen, but it appears to be the best potential strategy to address Scotland’s booze problem.

If the Supreme Court rules against it, another approach will be required.

The drinks industry has done itself no favours. Anyone paying attention to the strength of beer in particular will have noticed a sharp rise over the past few decades. It is almost as if brewers believe their customers are not getting their money’s worth if beer is not at least 5 or 6 per cent alcohol.

The idea that minimum pricing would interfere with the ability to consume alcohol responsibly is based on a fantasy – as is apparent to anyone who ventures out on a Saturday night.

The demon drink is too cheap, so we imbibe too freely and it is harming us all.