The First Minister warned alcohol-related deaths have risen in Scotland in the past two years which threatens to undermine the progress which has been made in changing Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with the bottle.
She was addressing a global conference aimed at tackling alcohol abuse in Edinburgh today and said re-iterated the Scottish Government’s demand for minimum unit pricing to tackle the issue.
There have been indications that Scotland’s efforts to tackle alcohol misuse is having some effect, Ms Sturgeon said, after a 9% fall in Scots’ level of drinking since 2009.
Drink related deaths had doubled between 1981 and 2003 - but have fallen back by a third since then.
“It’s possible that we are beginning to shift individual behaviour and public attitudes. Scotland might - just might - be starting to develop a healthy relationship with alcohol.”
But she admitted that rise in deaths over the past two years is now a major worry.
“I think that provides strong evidence that many of the changes we’ve seen in peoples’ behaviour are heavily influenced by affordability,” she said.
“Our framework has helped to reduce consumption, that is true. But so too, let’s be frank about it, did the economic downturn.
“As economic recovery continues, as unemployment falls and living standards rise, the improved affordability of alcohol seems to causing an increase again in consumption.
“There’s a danger, therefore, that most of the good work in recent years could be undone. So that is why reducing the affordability of alcohol is in my view the best way of reducing that harm that it causes.”
The minimum pricing proposals are currently caught up in European courts after a challenge by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA). The Advocate General of the European Court of Justice warned recently it could be difficult to implement over clashes with EU trade law, but teh Court of Session will make a ruling later this year.
“The Scottish Government continues to be absolutely committed to minimum unit pricing,” Ms Sturgeon added.
“I will continue to make the case against the sale of deadly cheap alcohol.”
About 300 people in Scotland will be admitted to hospital as a result of alcohol misuse and ten people will die during the three days of the conference, Ms Sturgeon told delegates from around the world.
“Those shocking statistics demonstrate all too clearly why minimum pricing is the right measure for Scotland.”