The number of alcohol-related deaths in Scotland rose by 10 per cent last year, reaching the highest level for six years.
Figures released by the National Records of Scotland show there were 1,265 deaths in 2016 up 115 from 1,150 in 2015.
This represents the highest total since 2010, when 1,318 alcohol-related deaths were recorded, and is the third largest annual increase behind an 18 per cent surge in 1996 and an 11 per cent rise in 1999.
The increase has prompted fresh calls for a “bold” alcohol strategy, and support for minimum unit pricing.
The pricing policy is currently being challenged in the courts, with the Supreme Court in London assessing the Scotch Whisky Association’s latest appeal. Men accounted for 867 deaths and females 398.
Alison Douglas, chief executive of charity Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “Behind these appalling statistics are real people – sons, daughters, husbands, wives, parents, friends and colleagues – who have died too young because of a substance that’s cheap, widely available and constantly promoted. Alcohol-related deaths are preventable. Increasing the price of the cheapest, strongest drinks through minimum unit pricing will reduce consumption and save hundreds of people’s lives.”
The age group with the highest number of deaths, at 503, was 45-59.
Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell said the government was looking forward to the court judgment on minimum pricing, and would enact the policy immediately if the appeal against it is rejected.
She added: “Our Framework for Action outlines more than 40 measures to reduce alcohol-related harm, including the quantity discount ban, a ban on irresponsible promotions as well as a lower drink drive limit and our nationwide alcohol brief intervention programme.
“I will be refreshing our Alcohol Strategy later this year providing opportunity to further consider the additional actions and steps needed to tackle alcohol-related harm in Scotland.”
Karen Betts, Scotch Whisky Association chief executive, said: “We have consistently said we believe minimum unit pricing is a trade barrier and is illegal under European law because it impacts businesses’ ability to price competitively. If other governments were to follow the Scottish Government’s lead, the Scotch Whisky industry would be damaged and with it the jobs and communities which rely on the industry’s continued success.”