Nicola Sturgeon has said the “eyes of the world” are on Scotland today as minimum pricing of alcohol is finally introduced today after a six-year court battle.
The First Minister said the “bold and brave” policy is expected to save hundreds of lives over the next five years in a radical approach to tackle Scotland’s “troubled relationship” with drink.
But opponents claim that it will mean “drastic increases” for Scots drinkers and the public have been misled over suggestions that only strong lagers and ciders will rise in price. The new minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol means a bottle of vodka will now cost at least £13.13 and whisky would cost at least £14.
The measure is backed by all political parties at Holyrood and medical leaders in Scotland. The plans were first passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2012, but were delayed after a legal challenge by the Scottish Whisky Association (SWA) which was finally kicked out by the Court of Session last year.
Alcohol misuse costs Scotland £3.6 billion each year. As a nation Scots drink 40 per cent more than the low-risk drinking guidelines of 14 units per week for men and women.
Ms Sturgeon said yesterday: “I am extremely proud that the eyes of the world will once again be on Scotland with the introduction of this legislation.
“Our action is bold and it is brave, and shows once again that we are leading the way in introducing innovative solutions to public health challenges.
“Given the clear and proven link between consumption and harm, minimum unit pricing is the most effective and efficient way to tackle the cheap, high strength alcohol that causes so much damage to so many families.”
Deaths through alcohol misuse in Scotland are 54 per cent higher than England and Wales and six times higher in the country’s most deprived areas. It is now estimated that 392 lives will be saved in the first five years of implementation, according to government research. The British Medical Association (BMA) says there is a “proven link” between alcohol price and consumption and has been a vocal backer of the minimum pricing.
BMA Scotland chair Dr Peter Bennie said: “Minimum unit pricing is a policy that will help to save lives and reduce alcohol harms in Scotland. It will help to reduce the burden of alcohol on our health service, on Scottish society, and most importantly on individuals and their families.
“This is an important milestone for Scotland, and many other parts of the world will now be watching the implementation of minimum unit pricing with great interest.”
But opponents say that alcohol consumption in Scotland is already falling and question what further impact minimum pricing will have.
Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “Shoppers in Scotland will see drastic increases in the price of their favourite drinks.
“It will become clear that minimum pricing is not a targeted measure that will only affect a few strong ciders.
“The public has been misled about this policy from the outset. Back-of-the-envelope calculations have been used to justify a nationwide rip-off that will raise the cost of living for all but the very rich.”
And despite the cross-party support at Holyrood Tory health spokesman Miles Briggs sounded a note of caution.
He said: “We’re awaiting with interest to see what effect the introduction of minimum pricing has on Scotland’s relationship with alcohol. This is new territory and we need to analyse what effect this will have on consumer behaviour.”
Despite the SWA challenge, the move does have some support within the drinks industry, with Tennent’s among the long-term advocates. Norman Loughery, off-trade sales director at Tennent’s owner C&C, said: “We strongly believe that the industry must play its part in tackling alcohol abuse and will therefore continue to work with relevant bodies in the territories in which we operate, including Ireland and Northern Ireland, to seek the introduction of minimum unit pricing legislation.”
Meanwhile, campaigners south of the Border said more than 1,000 lives could be lost if England fails to mirror Scotland’s reforms to alcohol pricing within five years.
The Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA) launched an intervention with the Children’s Society and homelessness charity Thames Reach today.
They said that a delay of five years could lead to more than 1,000 people dying in England from alcohol-related problems.