Page last updated at 09:26 GMT, Tuesday, 17 June 2008 10:26 UK

Alcohol clampdown plans unveiled

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Big drink promotions could be no more under the new plans

Proposals to tackle Scotland's binge-drinking culture have been announced by the Scottish Government.

The plan would see anyone under the age of 21 banned from buying alcohol in off-licences and set a minimum price at which a unit of alcohol can be sold.

The consultation document also proposes ending some cheap drink promotions and making some retailers help pay for the consequences of alcohol abuse.

Both the Tories and Lib Dems attacked the age rise for off-licence sales.

If the proposals in the Changing Scotland's Relationship with Alcohol consultation paper are adopted, alcohol-only checkouts would be introduced in large off-sales premises in the hope that that alcohol, like cigarettes, becomes thought of as a special case and not just another product.

The total cost of alcohol misuse in Scotland is estimated at 2.25bn every year, with alcohol-related deaths more than doubling in the last decade.

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Scotland also has one of the fastest growing liver cirrhosis death rates in the world at a time when cirrhosis rates in most of Western Europe are falling, while 45% of Scottish prisoners claimed to have been drunk at the time of their offence.

Unveiling the document, Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that there would be an 85m increase in alcohol prevention, treatment and support services, bringing total spending to 120m over the next three years.

She added: "People across all sections of society, of all ages, are drinking ever greater quantities of stronger alcoholic drinks. It should come as no surprise that alcohol-related health problems have risen hand-in-hand with this increased consumption.

"We believe that by raising the age for off-sales purchase of alcohol to 21, together with better enforcement, we will reduce excessive consumption among young people.

Your views on moves to combat Scotland's drink problem.

"Setting a minimum price for a unit of alcohol will mean price better reflects the strength of alcoholic drinks. This will end the heavy discounting which allows strong drink to be sold cheaper than bottled water."

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said he hoped the proposals would "kick-start a long term cultural shift in our society".

He added: "Alcohol is part of Scottish culture, and we value the contribution of the industry to our economy and national life, but we've got our drinking out of kilter.

"It's not the drink, it's how we're drinking it."

Ministers launched the consultation, which will run until 9 September, in Armadale, West Lothian, which recently ran a successful six-week pilot in which the purchase of off-sales alcohol was restricted to over-21s at weekends.

The trial resulted in a big drop in calls about anti-social behaviour, youth drinking and vandalism.

But both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats dislike the idea of making 21 the new legal age for buying alcohol in an off-licence or supermarket.

The Conservatives have said that such schemes would not work, and the Lib Dems insisted it was not right to stigmatise under-21s.

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Reaction to the alcohol clampdown

Lib Dem health spokesman Ross Finnie MSP said: "Liberal Democrats exposed the shockingly low number of prosecutions handed down to retailers selling alcohol to minors. The SNP should be cracking down on these rogue retailers before stigmatising all those aged between 18 and 21."

Tory justice spokesman Bill Aitken MSP said: "Before we think of introducing new legislation, the priority is to apply existing laws on underage sales and underage drinking. Until now, breaches by licensees have been paid lip service rather than prosecuted. Too many lawbreakers have kept their licences."

Labour MSPs said they were waiting to see details of the Scottish Government proposals, but were broadly supportive.

Fiona Moriarty, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said the proposals were an "ill-thought-out, reflex reaction not based on evidence".

She said raising the age at which it was legal to buy alcohol in off-licences would merely increase young people's fascination with it, and claimed the government was wrong to link price with alcohol consumption.

Ms Moriarty added: "Prices and promotions are broadly the same across the UK but alcohol-related deaths are far higher in Scotland than England, which clearly shows Scotland's relationship with alcohol is deep-rooted and complex."

A spokesman for the Scotch Whisky Association said it supported the government's bid to change attitudes to alcohol, but warned some of the proposed measures risked undermining Scotch in its home market.

The launch came as the Home Office unveiled a series of adverts warning 18 to 24-year-olds about the consequences of binge-drinking.

The 4m campaign television campaign, which will run in England and Wales, shows young people injuring themselves, being violent and smearing vomit in their hair.


SEE ALSO
Plan for 'minimum priced' alcohol
16 Jun 08 |  Scotland
Pilot booze ban hailed a success
02 May 08 |  Scotland
Cut-price alcohol deals face ban
05 Sep 07 |  Scotland
Under-age buyers test drink sales
30 May 08 |  Edinburgh, East and Fife
Licences pulled for alcohol sales
21 May 08 |  Edinburgh, East and Fife

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