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Supreme Court backs minimum alcohol price

With our partners in the royal colleges collaboration, Scotland Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), Faculty of Public Health (FPH) members in Scotland are celebrating today’s decision by the UK Supreme Court that clears the way for the implementation of the Scottish Government’s Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 early next year which will mean that no alcohol can be sold in Scotland for less than 50p per unit.

In 2007, SHAAP made its public call for action to introduce minimum unit pricing (MUP) to tackle the problem of cheap alcohol that was doing most damage to the most vulnerable drinkers and their families.

The Supreme Court’s decision brings to an end the costly and time-consuming legal challenges by global alcohol producers, fronted by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), to try to block the implementation of the legislation, which was passed without opposition by the Scottish Parliament, in 2012. The legal battle has included a referral to the European Court of Justice which returned the decision-making to the Scottish Courts which twice concluded resoundingly in favour of the Scottish Government’s Act.

In the five years that the implementation of the Scottish MUP law has been delayed, more than 6,000 heavy drinkers have died due to their alcohol use. The Supreme Court judges’ ruling gives the go-ahead for implementation of the policy early in 2018.

The long-awaited policy implementation will make great strides towards improving health in Scotland. Harmful and hazardous drinkers are mainly reliant on cheap vodka and white cider, the products that will increase in price most with MUP. According to health economists at the University of Sheffield, setting MUP at 50p in Scotland is likely to lead to 117 fewer alcohol-related deaths per year among hazardous and harmful drinkers.

Dr Julie Cavanagh, Convenor of FPH in Scotland, said: “The FPH members in Scotland are rightly proud of our active partnership in SHAAP and very pleased to congratulate the Scottish government on their sustained efforts to address the negative impact of alcohol on the health of people in Scotland.

“ASH Scotland has described this legal judgement as a victory for public health, supporting a government’s right to regulate harmful commercial interests for the benefit of people’s health. We hope it will open the door for further legislation that can protect people from the irresponsible marketing of products that cause harm to people’s health.”

Dr Eric Carlin, Director of SHAAP, said: “At long last this important life-saving measure can be enacted. I am grateful to the Scottish Government, and the First Minister in particular, as well as partners across the health and voluntary sectors in the UK and Europe, for championing MUP against ferocious, cynical opposition by the Scotch Whisky Association and its backers.

“The opponents of MUP have shamed the reputation of their industry by prioritising profits over people’s lives. As MUP has been delayed, we have seen the tragic, premature deaths of 24 people every week in Scotland as a result of alcohol misuse, many of them in our poorest communities, and affecting families across our nation. I strongly urge the global alcohol producers to now cease their activities to undermine public health in pursuit of profit here and across the globe.

“I look forward to MUP coming into effect as part of a refreshed package of measures to reduce alcohol-related harm in Scotland. Hopefully, the other nations of the United Kingdom will also implement similar policies.”

Dr Peter Rice, Chair of SHAAP, said: “This is great news for the health and wellbeing of people in Scotland. Frontline staff from health and other sectors see the damage caused by alcohol on a daily basis. This harm is disproportionately caused by the cheapest alcohol which Minimum Unit Pricing will remove.

“The scientific and clinical evidence supporting Minimum Pricing assembled by SHAAP and others has stood up against a rigorous analysis over a series of legal challenges led by the Scotch Whisky Association. We look forward to the swift implementation of this life-saving measure”.

Price based alcohol policies are the most effective measures to reduce the harms caused by alcohol to society. England now risks lagging behind Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland whose respective parliaments are moving forward with introducing MUP measures and UK FPH strongly urge the Westminster Government to avoid being left behind and introduce a minimum unit price in England of at least 50p.

Commenting on the judgement, Professor John Middleton, President of the UK FPH, said: “FPH congratulates the Scottish Government on today’s achievement. Alcohol is a major factor underpinning the stark inequalities in health between the least and most affluent people in society.

“Furthermore, it is the third leading cause of illness and disease in the UK. This is why the UK FPH is calling on the Westminster Government to do the following:

1. Urgently introduce minimum unit pricing in England

2. Urgently review alcohol taxation and reinstate the annual duty escalator on alcohol in the UK

3. Develop a hypothecation mechanism to ensure that any financial gains are invested in additional government-funded public health programmes in order to maximise the public benefits from these price-based measures on alcohol.”

END

Written: 15/11/2017 , last modified: 15/11/2017

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