The introduction of minimum unit pricing was a real milestone for Scotland. It is a bold public health policy that takes action to discourage alcohol misuse, by targeting the most harmful strong low cost alcohol. Third sector organisations successfully made the persuasive case to go ahead with the strategy.
Willie Rennie, LIB DEM
Scotland’s relationship with alcohol is a long and complex one – however even in the present day one in 15 of all deaths is alcohol-related. Health charities, the police and health professionals have argued that increasing the price is one of the most cost-effective policy measures to reduce consumption and harm.
And after a lengthy campaign, Scotland became the first country in the world to introduce minimum unit pricing (MUP) in May 2018.
Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said organisations involved in the campaign faced a battle to curb the sale of alcohol.
“Parts of the alcohol industry – notably global spirits producers – put up considerable opposition to minimum unit pricing,” she said. “They argued that alcohol consumption was a personal choice; that only a small minority drank excessively; and that minimum price would unfairly punish moderate drinkers. Alcohol Focus Scotland and others helped rebut these claims and built political and public support by providing briefings on the evidence, undertaking research, meeting with decision makers, and by keeping the issue in the media.”
Health campaigners were clear that the international evidence pointed to increasing price as an essential component of any strategy to tackle Scotland’s increasing alcohol problem.
Taxation had traditionally been seen as the main route to increasing price but this option was not available to Scotland as taxation was reserved to the UK Government.
The Scottish Government had been trying to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol since 2009. The parliament finally passed the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act in 2012, to introduce an MUP system for alcohol.
However the legislation was challenged in court by representatives from alcohol industry, delaying its implementation for over five years. On 15 November 2017, the UK Supreme Court confirmed that the legislation was lawful and a minimum price of 50p per unit was introduced on 1 May 2018.
A global first, it is estimated that minimum pricing will save the lives of hundreds of Scots and improve the lives of thousands more, helping to prevent the next generation from becoming heavy drinkers. In the first year alone, a 50p minimum unit price will prevent an estimated 60 alcohol-related deaths, 1,600 hospital admissions and 3,500 crimes.
Following an independent evaluation, parliament will decide on whether to renew the minimum price after six years as required within the act.