Scotland first to introduce minimum price on alcohol

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The Scottish Parliament overwhelmingly passed a bill last week (24 May) that introduced a 0.50£ (0.63€) minimum price for a unit of alcohol, the first legally-binding minimum price within the European Union.

Minimum prices are expected to get royal assent next month after the Tories, Scottish Greens and Liberal Democrats voted alongside the Scottish National party in Parliament last week in support of the bill.

From as early as April 2013, cut-price alcohol beverages will be outlawed in Scotland. The bill is expected to improve the region’s health and crime levels as it is expected to reduce binge drinking.

Minimum prices are expected to get royal assent next month after the Tories, Scottish Greens and Liberal Democrats voted alongside the Scottish National party in Parliament last week in support of the bill.

From as early as April 2013, cut-price alcohol beverages will be outlawed in Scotland. The bill is expected to improve the region’s health and crime levels as it is expected to reduce binge drinking.

“It will help Scotland achieve a ‘cultural shift’ in its unhealthy attitudes to alcohol,” said Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish health secretary. "This policy will save lives – it’s as simple as that," she said.

The next step will be for the Scottish government to notify the European Commission, which will embark on a three-month consultation that could trigger legal action by the drinks industry.

"The Scottish have set the first legally-binding minimum price within the EU,” said Monika Kosi?ska, Secretary General of the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), an advocacy group.

“I hope other EU governments are encouraged by this move, and follow suit in a measure that, if applied across the rest of Europe, would save many lives every year. This move by the Scottish government is a powerful demonstration of decisive action to tackle our biggest health challenges,” she added.

Industry-backed advisors have previously warned that rising alcohol taxes and minimum pricing strategies will boost the amount of “unrecorded alcohol” consumed in Europe, increasing bootlegging and health risks.

Twenty-two percent of total adult consumption in Europe during 2005 was unrecorded, according to the last global estimates of unrecorded alcohol produced by the UN World Health Organisation in 2005.

According to the The Guardian newspaper, critics also insist that the legislation has an unjustified impact on responsible and less well-off drinkers. They say it is illegal under EU and global competition laws and would also ruin the Scottish whisky industry's efforts to counter price controls and high tariffs in overseas markets.

The drinks industry in the rest of the UK is threatening similar action if Prime Minister David Cameron presses ahead with similar measures for England and Wales.

Background

Europeans have the highest per-capita consumption of alcohol. Drinking causes nearly one in 10 cases of ill health and premature death.

The European Commission's informal alcohol strategy will be evaluated later on in 2012. The policy objective of the strategy is to reduce the health and social harm due to alcohol consumption, although tax and pricing issues are within the domain of member states.

Public awareness of the health impacts of alcohol vary widely across Europe.

Amongst canvassed drinkers, Romanians and Hungarians were half as likely (48%) to recognise health messages about alcohol as British, Dutch and Slovakians (more than 90% in each case).

Further Reading

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