Leader comment: Minimum unit pricing of alcohol needs time to work

Given Scotland has had an alcohol problem for decades, centuries perhaps, it was never going to be an overnight fix.
Introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol could save lives, experts say.Introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol could save lives, experts say.
Introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol could save lives, experts say.

So the revelation in the Scottish Government’s consultation document that it could be 20 years before minimum unit pricing becomes fully effective should therefore not delay its introduction.

It is estimated that 60 lives will be saved in the first year, rising to 121 by the 20th. The reduction in deaths and resulting grief and misery can only be welcomed.

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If anything the slow pace of improvement is an indication that more needs to be done. Big Tobacco once marketed its wares in ways designed to convince us that smoking was a pleasant pastime, the kind of thing enjoyed by outdoorsy, healthy types.

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These kinds of adverts are now consigned to history, only occasionally shown as the subject of ridicule. Given what is known about the health effects of cigarettes, some of their claims are a source of comedy.

So it is perhaps strange, given what is also known about the devastating effect on health that alcohol can have, that we allow Big Booze to associate itself with our national sport, football, and a myriad of other healthy pursuits. Politicians of all parties should ask whether the advertising of alcohol should be similarly curtailed.

The industry would doubtless protest and it is rather good at that, as former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill revealed in his Scotsman column, describing the Scotch Whisky Association as the “most hostile and aggressive lobbying group” he had ever dealt with.

But the need to get a grip on this problem is pressing. There has been a five-fold increase in the risk of cirrhosis of the liver among 35 to 55-year-olds over the past decade and the average age of death of someone with alcohol-related liver disease is just 59.

Increasing the minimum unit price for alcohol above the 50p expected on its introduction should be considered. Steps to improve awareness of alcohol’s adverse effects on health and to challenge our booze culture should also be taken. Alcohol abuse is often a form of self-medication by those living in poverty, so greater efforts to improve the situation of Scotland’s most deprived areas would have a beneficial knock-on effect. Those standing in the way of attempts to save the lives ruined and ended by alcohol need to realise they are on the wrong side of history.