Dr Peter Bennie: Sale of alcohol for less than price of soft drinks is a scandal

The sale of alcohol for less than the cost of fizzy soft drinks is a scandal that must be addressed, says Dr Peter Bennie. Picture: John Devlin
The sale of alcohol for less than the cost of fizzy soft drinks is a scandal that must be addressed, says Dr Peter Bennie. Picture: John Devlin
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THE journey towards minimum unit pricing for alcohol in Scotland has been a long one, but it is approaching its end.

First brought forward by the then minority SNP government in 2009, the policy was initially defeated at Holyrood. However, the election of 2011 saw both a majority government returned and a change in attitude among opposition parties allowing the life-saving policy to be passed overwhelmingly in 2012.

Despite five long years passing, minimum unit pricing is still not in effect because of irresponsible attempts by the alcohol industry to block the policy in the courts.

This week, doctors and health campaigners hope the Supreme Court will end these challenges and let the policy proceed.

The strength of minimum unit pricing has always rested on the fact that it can achieve what taxation alone does not. The price of alcohol has long been known to be one of the key drivers behind consumption and while tax changes can be absorbed by the industry, minimum pricing by its nature cannot be.

Furthermore, a minimum price per unit of alcohol has been shown to have its greatest impact on reducing the consumption of the heaviest drinkers in society – those who are most at risk of death or serious illness from their use of alcohol.

As doctors, we see the heavy toll that alcohol takes on the health of people in Scotland and the emotional impact on loved ones, who are often left trying to pick up the pieces. The sale of alcohol for less than the cost of fizzy soft drinks is a scandal that must be addressed.

The most recent figures show that 1,265 people in Scotland lost their lives to alcohol-related causes last year.

This is a 10 per cent increase on the previous year and the highest total since 2010.

The cost of alcohol misuse to Scottish society runs into billions of pounds a year, taking into account losses to the economy, and policing costs, as well as a substantial financial impact on health services.

At a time when NHS resources are stretched as never before, we cannot afford to continue the cycle that sees pressure unnecessarily put upon the health service as a result of alcohol misuse.

The case for minimum unit pricing is as urgent
as ever.

For the sake of people across Scotland, I hope it will be implemented as swiftly as possible.

• Dr Peter Bennie is chair, BMA Scotland