Leaader comment: How Scotland could change the world with minimum unit pricing for alcohol

It's not often one is able to say that Scotland is genuinely a world leader.

Scotland is set to introduce minimum prices for alcohol based on its strength. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

But, with the way cleared by the Supreme Court to introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol, this country will become the first on the planet to do so, potentially blazing a trail for others to follow.

Scotland was one of the first countries in the modern era to introduce a ban on smoking in public places, a once controversial move which is now widely accepted and has benefited us all.

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Whether minimum unit pricing (MUP) will be equally successful remains to be seen, but it is the best apparent solution to Scotland’s drink problem. No-one – including the Scottish Whisky Association (SWA), whose legal challenge delayed the introduction of MUP by years – has come up with a better suggestion. If it works here, other countries will doubtless follow the Scottish Government’s lead and humanity will have a new way to tackle one of the leading causes of death. Worldwide, some 3.3 million deaths a year are caused by harmful use of alcohol, nearly 6 per cent of all deaths, and in the 20-39 age group, it accounts for 25 per cent of all deaths. In Scotland, the rate of alcohol consumption ranks among the highest in the world, the average adult breaching recommended levels every week by about 44 per cent, based on sales figures.

The argument deployed by the SWA – that minimum pricing was a “restriction on trade” – may sound plausible on the face of it to some. The idea the state should force a business to put its prices up runs contrary to the ideals of a free market. But this suggestion is blown out of the water by two facts – the astonishingly low price of alcohol and the level of harm it causes to individuals and society as a whole.

According to Alcohol Focus Scotland, it is possible to buy the weekly maximum recommended intake of booze for just £2.52 with cheap super-strength cider, vodka and whisky available for as little as 18p per unit. Increasing this to 50p per unit should be a way of using the laws of supply and demand to improve the health of the nation.

There were 1,265 alcohol-related deaths in Scotland last year, the highest number for six years. It is estimated that MUP will save the lives of 60 people, reduce hospital admissions by 1,600 and see 3,500 fewer crimes in Scotland in its first year alone. After causing a five-year delay through the courts, the SWA may wish to reflect on these figures.