The alcohol problem in Scotland is so significant that ground breaking measures are now required.
Given the link between consumption and harm and evidence that affordability is one of the drivers of increased consumption, addressing price is an important element of any long-term strategy.
Alcohol is now 44 per cent more affordable in the UK than it was in 1980. It is possible in Scotland today to exceed the maximum weekly recommended intake of alcohol for men (21 units) for around £4. This is an unacceptable position and we have a responsibility to address this problem.
There is strong international evidence that tackling price - as part of package of measures, including education and diversion - can help reduce alcohol consumption and related harm.
The Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 was passed in June 2012 and will pave the way for the introduction of a preferred minimum price of 50p per unit. This landmark policy is supported by many children’s charities and is a significant step forward in the Scottish Government’s efforts to tackle Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
The draft order setting a minimum price of 50p has now been notified to the European Commission. The earliest date for implementation of the minimum price is 2013.
What is Minimum Pricing?
Research into differing price policy options concluded that a minimum price is the most effective of a range of policy options. It has been recommended as a way of increasing the price of drinks such as own-brand spirits and white cider, which have high alcohol content but are usually very cheap.
Minimum pricing would simply set a floor price for a unit of alcohol, meaning it can't be sold for lower than that. The more alcohol a drink contains, the stronger it is and therefore the more expensive it will be.
Minimum pricing is not a tax; it is a targeted way of making sure alcohol is sold at a sensible price.
The effects of minimum pricing
Minimum pricing will impact most on harmful drinkers - those who regularly drink more than the sensible drinking guidelines. Those who drink within sensible guidelines will only be marginally affected simply because they only consume a small amount of alcohol and also because they do not tend to buy as much of the cheaper alcohol that would be most affected by a minimum price.
The small increase in the cost of alcohol to moderate drinkers has to be seen in the context of the total costs of alcohol misuse - estimates suggest around £900 per year for every adult in Scotland.
Almost all drinks bought in the pub are already sold well above any likely minimum price, so they wouldn't be affected. The minimum price of 50p per unit will mostly affect cheap white ciders and value spirits with high alcohol content which tend to be favoured by problem drinkers.
The Chief Medical Officer believes that - like the smoking ban - minimum price would save lives within a year. Research by the University of Sheffield estimated that the proposed minimum price of 50p per unit would result in the following benefits:
- Alcohol related deaths would fall by about 60 in the first year and 318 by year ten of the policy
- A fall in hospital admission of 1,600 in year 1, and 6,500 per year by year ten of the policy
- A fall in crime volumes by around 3,500 offences per year
- A financial saving from harm reduction (health, employment, crime etc) of £942m over ten years
Some people may not feel that they are part of Scotland's alcohol problem, but through the introduction of minimum pricing, everyone will feel the economic and social benefits of the solution through healthier, happier, safer families and communities.