Page last updated at 00:53 GMT, Sunday, 22 November 2009

Minimum alcohol pricing backed by author Irvine Welsh

Irvine Welsh
Mr Welsh says the price and availability of alcohol is causing problems

Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh has urged politicians to tackle Scotland's "cheap bevvy" culture.

The author called for action to deal with the country's "growing problem" with alcohol.

Mr Welsh said the price of drink was linked to the amount consumed, and he demanded politicians "stand up and be counted" by tackling the issue.

His comments come as the Scottish government is planning to introduce proposals for minimum alcohol pricing.

Doctors have backed the plans, while industry bodies including the Scotch Whisky Association and the Wine and Spirit Trade Association are opposed.

Mr Welsh said: "Scotland has a growing problem with alcohol abuse.

"More people, younger people and more women than ever before are at risk from being encouraged to over-consume this drug.

"This has an incalculable impact on the NHS and also on our social services through the pressure illness and harmful drinking puts on families."

The measures we have proposed to tackle alcohol misuse are very much in line with what he is saying
Nicola Sturgeon
Health Secretary

Mr Welsh continued: "In Scotland, our cultural relationship with alcohol interfaces negatively with resilient poverty to maintain the long-running embarrassment of this weeping sore on our social fabric. Cheap bevvy is part of that culture.

"We know that the price and availability of alcohol products have a strong relationship to the amount of alcohol consumed.

"This is a major social issue and needs to be tackled as such by our politicians in a democracy, and this should transcend the concerns of those in the alcohol industry who feel their profitability will be compromised."

He stated: "Very few would want to go back to the days when the tobacco industry determined policy on smoking.

'Culture change'

"Now politicians should stand up and be counted and move us on to a new era where how much we drink will not be determined by the alcohol industry lobby."

The author's Trainspotting novel was later made into a movie starring Ewan McGregor, and follows the lives of a group of heroin users in Edinburgh.

He spoke out as health campaigners Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (Shaap) insisted Scotland's drinking culture could be reversed.

Off licence alcohol
The government wants a minimum price for a unit of alcohol

Shaap is launching a new campaign to encourage people to change the way they think about alcohol, with the aim of challenging the notion harmful drinking is a core part of Scottish culture.

Dr Bruce Ritson, the group's chair, said: "There is this idea that culture is somehow fixed or unchanging but if we look at how attitudes have changed aided by legislation on seat belts, drink-driving and smoking, it's clear that culture can change.

"Today we have a culture of cheap alcohol which has led to over-consumption and alcohol-related deaths increasing by 150% in a generation. Price and availability is an integral part of our drinking culture but the changes in the alcohol market are relatively recent and can be reversed."

He said proposals on minimum pricing offered "the best chance we have to change the culture of cheap alcohol".

'Targeted measure'

Paul Waterson, the chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association also backed the measure.

He said that pubs had worked hard to stop "irresponsible" price promotions but added this was "being thwarted because people can still access really cheap alcohol from supermarkets".

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: "We welcome Irvine Welsh's comments, and the measures we have proposed to tackle alcohol misuse are very much in line with what he is saying.

"This is especially true of minimum pricing, which would see the cheap white ciders and low-grade spirits favoured by problem drinkers rise in price, to a cost that better reflects their high alcohol content.

"Meanwhile, all drinks in the pub and the vast majority of supermarket wines, beers and whiskies would see no change, so it's a targeted way of making sure strong drink is sold at a sensible price while not affecting moderate drinkers."

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