Page last updated at 16:45 GMT, Monday, 22 June 2009 17:45 UK

Minimum pricing on alcohol urged

Experts and politicians are trying to address Scotland's booze shame

Scotland should become one of the first countries to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol, it has been urged.

An alcohol summit in Edinburgh discussed the scale of the country's alcohol problem and possible solutions.

The forum brought together about 100 representatives from across the political spectrum, the alcohol industry and interest groups.

A World Health Organisation expert urged Scotland to lead the world in pricing policy.

The event comes in the wake of the Scottish Government's publication of its Alcohol Framework in March.

Dr Harry Burns, Scotland's chief medical officer, who attended the summit, said: "The health profession is seeing the fall-out of alcohol misuse every year in hundreds of thousands of GP consultations, thousands of hospital admissions and increased rates of chronic illness and deaths.

2007-08: 42,430 alcohol related discharges from hospitals
2008: 49% of all Scottish prisoners said they were drunk at the time of their offence
2006-07: An estimated 111,200 consultations with GP practices for alcohol misuse
2007: 50 million litres of pure alcohol sold in Scotland
Source: Scottish Government

"This is a problem that cuts across gender, age and socio-economic group and is growing in every part of Scotland.

"It's clear that the high alcohol consumption we're now seeing across society has very serious consequences for our health as a nation. We have to look at the evidence of what works in order to get to grips with it."

He said setting a minimum price was a "no-brainer" solution for controlling alcohol consumption.

Dr Peter Anderson, a consultant to the World Health Organisation, who also advises the European Commission, told delegates: "Outside of governments which own retail stores for the sale of alcohol, no jurisdiction has set a minimum price of alcohol. Internationally, Scotland is seen as a public health leader.

"You had the courage to introduce smoke free pubs; let us hope that you have the same courage to introduce a minimum price for alcohol."

But Jeremy Beadles, chief executive of the Wine and Spirits Trade Association, said minimum pricing was not a panacea for solving "deep-seated cultural problems".

He said: "Those who claim minimum pricing is the solution to Scotland's problem with drink should consider why alcohol misuse remains an issue in Ireland and Scandinavian countries where alcohol is highly taxed and very expensive."

'National consensus'

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: "This government believes the time has come for radical action to cut the £2.25bn cost of alcohol misuse to Scotland. But we're under no illusions that we have to take people with us and that includes the whole political spectrum, the alcohol industry and retailers.

"This issue is bigger than politics and we owe it to the people of Scotland to tackle the scourge of alcohol misuse.

"Today's summit was an opportunity to sit down with others who share our determination, so that we can work towards a consensus."

Labour's Cathy Jamieson said her party wanted to see measures which get to the heart of Scotland's drinking.

She said: "We need a national consensus to tackle Scotland's hard drinking culture and I am pleased that the Scottish Government agreed to Labour's request for an all-party summit on alcohol abuse.

"Labour has put forward proposals for a ban on billboards advertising alcohol near schools and a mandatory code of practice for retailers, but we will look seriously at any credible proposals that will reduce the level of problem drinking in Scotland."

The Liberal Democrats said minimum pricing would not tackle deprivation levels that are at the heart of the challenge of alcohol abuse, while the Conservatives also said no pricing plan would make a significant difference without understanding why people drink to excess.

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