Page last updated at 00:17 GMT, Thursday, 5 November 2009

Minimum pricing 'myth shattered'

Debate on minimum pricing of alcohol: From BBC Democracy Live

An alcohol price survey has shown that minimum pricing will target cheap, high-strength products, the Scottish government has claimed.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said the findings showed the policy would be an effective measure to reduce consumption among problem drinkers.

But opponents insisted minimum pricing would not tackle the underlying reasons that people drink.

The issue will be the focus of a Conservative debate at Holyrood later.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: "These figures shatter the myth that minimum pricing would punish responsible drinkers. The truth is that the great majority of drinks would see no price rise at all.

Minimum pricing will not tackle the underlying reasons that make people drink themselves stupid in the first place
Robert Brown MSP
Liberal Democrat

"In fact, it would be the high-strength products sold for rock-bottom prices and favoured by problem drinkers that would see their cost increase - in some cases more than doubling. Health experts say this would make the heaviest drinkers reduce their consumption."

Ms Sturgeon said the key findings included:

  • Nearly all recognised brands of Scotch whisky are already sold for more than the illustrative minimum price of £11.20.
  • The majority of large bottles of cheap white cider, which often have a high alcohol content, would see their prices rise, with some more than doubling.
  • The vast majority of recognised beer and wine brands favoured by responsible drinkers would see no change in their price.

She went on: "Previous research has already shown that minimum pricing could help save hundreds of lives every year, prevent thousands of illnesses and crimes and save Scottish taxpayers millions of pounds.

For too long, the health and other problems caused by excessive consumption of alcohol have been growing
Theresa Fyffe
RCN Scotland

"The opponents of minimum pricing need to explain why they object to these aims.

Murdo Fraser MSP, Scottish Conservative deputy leader, said: "The facts show that the SNP's blanket minimum pricing policy would cost our economy £600m in whisky exports each year - £6bn over 10 years.

"Hundreds of jobs would be under threat. It is no wonder organisations up and down Scotland are joining the growing chorus against this badly thought out policy.

'Risking jobs'

"If anything shows that the SNP does not stand up for Scottish jobs and Scottish businesses then this is it."

Campbell Evans of the Scotch Whisky Association said: "Following the recent opinion by the Advocate General of the European Court, there is a growing consensus that minimum pricing is illegal and ineffective.

"It will also damage Scotch whisky at home and in our export markets, risking hundreds of jobs.

"It is time for the Scottish Government to listen to these concerns and drop a proposal that will damage Scottish business and jobs, and will not address the real cause of Scotland's drink problem."

Shadow Health Secretary Jackie Baillie said: "The onus is on the SNP to show that their plans for minimum pricing are credible and within the law.

"Scottish Labour has called for a national consensus to tackle our hard drinking culture involving all of our political parties, health organisations, the police and the industry itself.

"At the moment it looks like the SNP don't want to be part of this."

For the Liberal Democrats, Robert Brown said they had long argued that minimum pricing would not tackle the underlying reasons that "make people drink themselves stupid in the first place".

He added: "This seems more about the SNP Government trying to bring in a totemic public health measure to rival the smoking ban introduced by the previous Government.

"More must be done to make people, particularly young people, aware of the dangers of alcohol abuse and existing laws need to be enforced.

'Reduce hospital admissions'

"It would be far better for SNP Ministers to focus on changing Scotland's fundamental cultural relationship with alcohol."

Theresa Fyffe, Director of RCN Scotland, defended the government's plans.

She said: "RCN Scotland fully supports the Scottish Government's plans to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol, alongside other measures, to tackle the harm caused by problem drinking.

"For too long, the health and other problems caused by excessive consumption of alcohol have been growing and it is high time that a co-ordinated plan of action was put into place to tackle this issue across society."

Cameron Paul, a senior addictions liaison nurse, said: "Minimum pricing and a ban on promotions will directly reduce the number of hospital admissions each year.

"This would be welcomed by accident and emergency nurses and other healthcare staff across Scotland, not only because of the improvement in public health, but also because this will mean they will be at less risk of abusive and violent behaviour.

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