Scotland prompts calls for minimum unit alcohol price in England
As a minimum unit price for alcohol comes into effect in Scotland today (1 May) there have been fresh calls for England to follow suit in order to “significantly reduce” alcohol-related deaths.
Scottish Parliament first passed the legislation in 2012, which ordered that alcohol could not be sold for less than 50p a unit.
The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) launched an appeal against the ruling, taking its battle to the European High Court, but was unsuccessful in its endeavours.
In February this year, health secretary Shona Robison confirmed the minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol in Scotland would be at least 50 per unit following a public consultation.
Health bodies such as the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) have welcomed the introduction of MUP in Scotland, and want to see similar legislation in England.
The RSPH argues that alcohol-related health problems cost the NHS around £3.5 billion every year, and says that introducing MUP in England could save 1,148 lives and prevent 74,000 alcohol-related hospital admissions in the first five years alone.
Shirley Cramer CBE, chief executive of RSPH, said: “When it comes to reducing alcohol harm, minimum unit pricing is one of the most potent tools we have at our disposal, with numerous studies and international evidence suggesting it can significantly reduce deaths and other health harms.
“We are delighted to see the Scottish government leading the way with such progressive and responsible public health policy, and to see the other devolved national administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland progressing their own plans for MUP.
“We hope that the Westminster government will now look to the success of such policies and not leave people in England at a greater risk of harm from irresponsibly cheap, super-strength alcohol.”
However, trade bodies across the UK alcohol industry, such as the SWA, have long argued that MUP would be ineffective at tackling alcohol-related issues.
Commenting on the legislation, a spokesperson for the SWA said: “The Scotch whisky industry has worked co-operatively with the Scottish government on the implementation of minimum unit pricing, which we hope will be smooth.
“In parallel, we continue to work in partnership with a range of stakeholders to promote responsible drinking and to tackle alcohol-related harm.
“We agree with the Scottish government that there needs to be an objective, independent and robust assessment of the impact of minimum unit pricing. That should include assessing the impact on trade.”
Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), also urged the Scottish government to monitor the effects of MUP over time.
He said: “Minimum unit pricing has been a very complex and costly measure to introduce. However, WSTA’s retailer members have invested significant time and resource to ensure they will be fully compliant with the new regulations in time for the deadline today.
“The Scottish government’s policy will increase the price of around half of the alcohol on supermarket shelves and will impact most drinkers, particularly those on lowest incomes.
“The WSTA’s long held view is that MUP is likely to be ineffective in changing the behaviour of problem drinkers. There are also serious questions about the potential impact on cross border trade and illicit alcohol.
“It is vital therefore that the impact of on businesses and on consumers of the MUP experiment in Scotland is rigorously and objectively monitored and evaluated over time.”