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Scotland's drinking habit

22/02/2009

Industry sales figures suggest Scotland has the eighth highest alcohol consumption level in the world.

The country drank nearly 50 million litres of pure alcohol in 2007 - equivalent to 11.8 litres per capita for every person aged over 16. This is considerably higher than England and Wales, which had an average consumption figure of 9.9 litres per capita.

For Scottish adults aged over 18, moreover, the figure was even higher at 12.2 litres of pure alcohol per person, while the figure for England and Wales was 10.3 litres.

Scotland's pure alcohol per capita figure of 11.8 litres is equivalent to 570 pints of 4 per cent beer, nearly 500 pints of strong 5 per cent lager, 42 bottles of vodka or 125 bottles of wine - enough for every single adult to exceed the sensible drinking guidelines for men of 21 units every week of the year.

And the difference between Scotland's consumption and that of England and Wales of 189 units per person equates to 80-90 pints of beer or 21 bottles of wine more per head.

The figures are derived from market data analysed by the Nielsen Company for the Scottish Government, which also showed that two-thirds of alcohol in Scotland was bought in off-sales locations such as supermarkets.

Compared with the latest figures compiled by the World Health Organisation, this would place Scotland as having the eighth highest pure alcohol consumption level, behind only Luxembourg (15.6 litres per capita); Ireland (13.7 litres); Hungary (13.6 litres); Moldova (13.2 litres); Czech Republic (13.0 litres), Croatia (12.3 litres) and Germany (12.0 litres).

England and Wales' figure of 9.9 litres per capita would place it at fifteenth-equal with Lithuania.

Luxembourg's apparent high consumption is thought by analysts to be an anomaly put down to the high level of through-transit from neighbouring countries.

Scotland's figure is higher than nearly every other country in Western Europe, including Spain (11.7 litres), France (11.4 litres) and Italy (8.0 litres).

It is more than double the consumption level in Scandinavian countries like Sweden (6.0 litres) and Norway (5.5 litres) where the relative price of alcohol is considerably higher and the sale of alcohol is more restricted.

It was also much higher than the United States (8.6 litres), Canada (7.8 litres), Australia (9.0 litres), China (5.2 litres) Japan (7.6 litres) and even Russia (10.3 litres), where alcohol-related deaths have cut the average life expectancy for men to 59.

Figures from the Office of National Statistics indicate that alcohol is nearly 70 per cent more affordable now than in 1980, because although the price of alcohol has risen faster than retail prices generally, household income has risen much more quickly. Over the same period, alcohol consumption in the UK as a whole rose 21 per cent.

Shona Robison, Minister for Public Health, said:

"When it comes to alcohol consumption, Scotland is worryingly close to the top of the international league table.

"Sales data from the alcohol industry itself indicates that we're buying and drinking much more than people in the other UK countries and most of the rest of the world.

"There can be little doubt that this is largely a consequence of the big fall in alcohol's relative price, which has dropped 70 per cent since 1980. Significantly, we now buy two-thirds of our alcohol from supermarkets and shops, rather than in pubs and clubs. In these contexts, alcohol is frequently sold as a 'loss leader', with heavily discounted deals and pocket-money prices the norm.

"The sad knock-on of all this has been a huge rise in all types of alcohol-related illnesses and deaths, with Scotland's liver cirrhosis rate one of the fastest-growing worldwide and double that of England and Wales.

"Health experts are now agreed that alcohol misuse is the most pressing public health issue facing Scotland and we have to get to grips with it. Deluding ourselves that over-consumption of alcohol across our society is consequence free, or someone else's problem, is no longer an option.

"We have consulted on a radical package of measures to rebalance our country's relationship with alcohol and will outline the way forward shortly."

Dr. Laurence Gruer, Director of Public Health Science with NHS Health Scotland, said:

"These figures put Scotland's alcohol misuse problem in context. Taking these figures alongside Scottish Health Survey estimates suggests that around 50 per cent of men and 30 per cent of women may be drinking above weekly limits.

"The consequences of this level of consumption are only too apparent in our hospital wards, Emergency Departments and on our streets."

Consumption is averaged across the entire population aged over 16 which provides a more accurate international comparison, since some countries have legal drinking ages below 18.

Figures from the Institute of Alcohol Studies show that per capita alcohol consumption for the UK as a whole has doubled since 1960 and has risen 21 per cent since 1980.

Alcohol misuse is estimated to cost Scotland £2.25 billion per year in extra services across the NHS, police, courts, social services and lost economic productivity.