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Alcohol price plans 'are legal'

15 March 09 16:03 GMT

The chief medical officer for Scotland has dismissed claims that setting a minimum alcohol price could be illegal.

Dr Harry Burns told BBC Scotland it was "entirely appropriate" that Scottish ministers introduced the measure in a bid to tackle alcohol abuse.

His opposite number in England has also unveiled similar proposals for a minimum price south of the border.

But the drinks industry has raised concerns that fixing alcohol prices could breach competition laws.

The Scottish Government wants to introduce a minimum price to curb the sale of cheap, high-strength lagers and ciders in supermarkets.

Dr Burns told BBC Scotland's Politics Show: "Issues like this are put to lawyers, and ministers have decided that it is legal and want to proceed.

"I think that is a very important stake in the ground."

Dr Burns drew a parallel with smoking when he was a surgeon treating the effects of over-consumption of tobacco years ago in Glasgow.

"People would say about cigarettes, 'if it was that bad for you the government would do something about it'," he added.

"The government has decided to do something about this and I think that's a very important issue and it's entirely appropriate that it tackles price."

But Campbell Evans of the Scotch Whisky Association criticised the plans.

Legal advice

"Minimum pricing isn't the way forward," he told the programme.

"First of all, it looks as though it would probably be illegal no matter whether it was introduced in Scotland or in England."

Dr Evelyn Gillan of the Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems said it had commissioned legal advice which indicated it would be possible under UK and EU competition and trade law to introduce the price curb.

"This would be a measure that would not only save lives in Scotland but would not be contrary to trade law," she said.

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