Scotland to introduce minimum unit pricing after Supreme Court defeat for drinks industry

Written by Tom Freeman on 15 November 2017 in News

Scotland will implement 50p per unit policy “as quickly as possible” after landmark ruling

Cheap alcohol - credit Lisa Marie

Alcohol sold in Scotland will be subject to a minimum price per unit after the UK Supreme Court rejected five years of legal challenges by the drinks industry.

Minimum unit pricing, passed by the Scottish parliament in 2012, has been the subject of a series of legal challenges led by the Scotch Whisky Association.

The body claimed the measure restricted trade and breached European competition laws. The European Court of Justice ruled it would be up to domestic courts to decide whether it would be more effective than taxation.

But this morning the UK Supreme Court unanimously ruled the measure was a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.


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The 50p per unit minimum is designed to target cheap alcohol which causes the most harm, such as white ciders and vodka, in an attempt to stem rising alcohol-related deaths in Scotland. The extra funds raised would not be applied as a tax but would go to the retailer.

Scotland currently buys 20 per cent more alcohol than other UK nations, but proposals elsewhere in the UK means today’s decision will have been watched by campaigners and officials across Britain.

Health secretary Shona Robison said the Scottish Government will now proceed to implement the policy “as quickly as possible”.

“This has been a long journey and in the five years since the Act was passed, alcohol related deaths in Scotland have increased. With alcohol available for sale at just 18 pence a unit, that death toll remains unacceptably high.

“Given the clear and proven link between consumption and harm, minimum pricing is the most effective and efficient way to tackle the cheap, high strength alcohol that causes so much damage to so many families.”

The Scottish Conservatives have said they remain supportive of the policy. Health spokesman Miles Briggs said: "We look forward to seeing whether or not minimum pricing can make any impact on Scotland's complex and damaging relationship with alcohol."

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Charities, alcohol and drug campaigners and doctors’ bodies the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh welcomed the news.

And Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), the group of clinicians which designed the proposals for the Scottish Government, said it hoped it could now be implemented elsewhere in the UK.

Director Eric Carlin said: “As MUP has been delayed, we have seen the tragic, premature deaths of 24 people every week in Scotland as a result of alcohol misuse, many of them in our poorest communities, and affecting families across our nation.

“I strongly urge the global alcohol producers to now cease their activities to undermine public health in pursuit of profit here and across the globe.”

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