Page last updated at 09:03 GMT, Thursday, 24 December 2009

Health chiefs in booze price plea

Women with wine
The minimum price plan would target cheap wine, lager and cider

All 17 of Scotland's public health chiefs have called on politicians to back a minimum price for alcohol.

A letter signed by the directors of health has been sent to every MSP.

It calls on them to back Scottish government proposals to raise the minimum price of alcohol "for the sake of the health" of everyone in Scotland.

The SNP administration's plan to introduce minimum pricing looks likely to fail in the face of opposition from the other main parties.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon unveiled details of the minimum pricing proposal last month, on the same day the Labour party announced it would join the Tories and Lib Dems by not supporting it.

The government has not set out the level of its minimum price but a figure of 40p per unit of alcohol has been used by ministers as an illustration.

The proposal is aimed at cheap wines and lagers.

This is a significant show of support for the Scottish government's bold proposals to address Scotland's relationship with alcohol
Michael Matheson

The directors of public health at all 14 of Scotland's local health boards have signed the letter, as have the heads of Health Protection Scotland, NHS Health Scotland and the Scottish Prison Service's medical service.

The health directors said minimum pricing was one of the ways of reducing alcohol consumption that did not require the approval of the Westminster parliament.

Dr Linda de Caestecker said alcohol was causing 'enormous problems' for society

They urged MSPs to put party politics aside in favour of the health of the nation.

"Over the past 30 years in Scotland our level of deaths directly caused by alcohol, conditions like alcoholic cirrhosis and alcoholic heart disease, has almost tripled," the letter said.

"One person in Scotland is dying every three hours of every day as a direct result of alcohol, many of them prematurely.

"Fifteen of the 20 local areas in the UK with the highest male alcohol-related death rates between 1998 and 2004 are in Scotland and the top five are all Scottish, spread across from Inverclyde to Dundee."

Nationalist backbencher Michael Matheson, who sits on Holyrood's Health and Sport Committee, backed the intervention of the health chiefs.

"This is a significant show of support for the Scottish government's bold proposals to address Scotland's relationship with alcohol," he said.

"Our alcohol consumption is increasing and the relative cost of alcohol has decreased. Despite numerous opportunities supermarkets have shown they will not act responsibly when it comes to price and alcohol.

"As the supermarkets will not take action the government has no choice but to put in place a responsible price for alcohol."

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