The Scottish National Party (SNP) has vowed that within a year a minimum price for alcohol will be introduced into the legislation. The party even went so far as to call it the ‘key priority’ of its second term in office. During the last administration the plan was blocked by opposition parties, but the nationalists say that as part of their first program of legislative changes they will fix the minimum price on 45 pence per unit (€0.51). This time the new government has an unprecedented majority and therefore does not have to worry about opposition parties voting down the legislation.

The proposed minimum price will cut hospital admissions by 1,200 a year as well as nearly 23,000 fewer days lost from work in the first year alone, according to health leaders. Dr Evelyn Gillan, chief executive of Alcohol Focus
Scotland, estimates that the policy measure will save around 50 lives in the first year.

Dr Brian Keighley, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) in Scotland, said to be pleased that the new Scottish government has made a commitment to reintroduce a minimum pricing bill. According to Dr Keighley “The BMA is convinced by the evidence that exists to link price and consumption and from the modeling work undertaken by Sheffield University, that a minimum pricing approach would reduce the social and health harms associated with excessive alcohol consumption, sadly a trademark of Scotland’s national identity.”

The Scottish alcohol industry however is not pleased by the plans. Despite promises by the SNP that whiskey as a premium product will not be affected by the minimum pricing, the Scotch Whisky Association, insists the measure will “undermine” its £3 billion a year exports.

The has calculated that the plans will ad about £3 to the cost of some supermarket own-brand whiskies and triples the cost of the cheapest super-strength ciders sold by big supermarket chains, the price of cheap vodka will rise with around £4 a bottle in supermarkets. Alcohol companies fear that minimum alcohol pricing policies could set a precedent for other countries to introduce their own health-based tax regimes to curb the dangers of alcohol.

The also quotes a spokesman for the Wine and Spirit Trade Association who said: “Minimum pricing would punish the vast majority of responsible drinkers with higher prices, hitting those on low incomes hardest yet there is no evidence it would address the root causes of alcohol misuse.” The drinks industry vehemently fights against t minimum pricing policies, referring to a ruling by the European Court of Justice from 1978, in which such a minimum price for spirits was deemed illegal. The ruling stated that countries can take other measures to deal with alcohol related harm, but that these measures should use less trade-restrictive means, such as increasing taxes on duty. If the case would be brought before court again, a valid justification for the minimum pricing would be the precedence of national health protection over international free trade.

Source: 05/10/11

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