Disappointment over Scotch Whisky Association decision to appeal alcohol minimum unit pricing
Empty bottles - Image credit: Press Association
Health services and campaigners have expressed dismay that the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has decided to take an appeal against alcohol minimum unit pricing to the UK Supreme Court.
The association announced today that it will appeal last month’s decision by the Court of Session that a minimum price per unit on alcohol is lawful to protect public health.
Eric Carlin, Director of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), said it “beggars belief” that the Scotch Whisky Association was continuing to challenge the Scottish Parliament and courts after the Court of Session’s decision.
“They know that they will not win this case in London. Everyone knows that. Meanwhile 22 people die every week.
“One can only assume that their accountants have calculated that delaying the implementation of MUP will prolong, albeit for a short period, their profit-making from cheap booze, which damages the poor most of all.”
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Alison Douglas, Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, called it “really disappointing news”.
“In appealing minimum pricing, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) are ignoring both the will of the Scottish Parliament and the court’s decision.
“Twenty two Scots are dying because of alcohol every single week. Minimum pricing will save many lives and improve many more.
“In taking legal action, SWA members like Diageo and Pernod Ricard are consistently putting their shareholders’ profits above the public interest.
“When it comes to the nation’s health, we cannot allow the alcohol industry to call the shots.
And doctors' union the BMA's Scotland chair, Peter Bennie, said: “The decision from the Scotch Whisky Association to appeal the Court of Session ruling on minimum unit pricing is exceptionally disappointing news which will bring more delay to the implementation of a policy that would save lives.
“Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol is well documented and carries a tragic human toll with hundreds of people dying each year as a result of alcohol-related issues, to say nothing of the wider impact on families and our public services of alcohol misuse.
“The minimum unit pricing policy, which was passed with the overwhelming support of Parliament, is designed to reduce the levels of harm caused to our society by alcohol.
“We believe that this measure should be implemented without further challenge and that the Scotch Whisky Association is wrong to delay the policy with more legal wrangling which will do nothing to tackle the very real concerns that exist around alcohol harm.”
Health Secretary Shona Robison also called the decision “deeply disappointing”.
She said: “Their seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court is now the only stumbling block to minimum unit pricing being introduced.
“Of course, it is not yet inevitable that the appeal would proceed all the way to the Supreme Court.
“I think the SWA may want to consider that minimum unit pricing was passed with the overwhelming support of the Parliament, has been tested in Europe, and has now been approved twice in the Scottish courts.
“We remain committed to ongoing dialogue with the alcohol industry.
“Should the SWA drop their appeal, and accept that the time has now come to implement this measure that will save lives, they could expect very strong support from across Scotland.”
Robison said the Scottish Government remains determined to implement the policy “as soon as possible” and she is confident the Supreme Court will find also the policy to be lawful.
The SWA’s said the decision to appeal had not been taken lightly, but it believed minimum pricing was incompatible with EU law.
Julie Hesketh-Laird, acting chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said: "Having carefully considered the ruling from the Court of Session on minimum unit pricing of alcohol, and reflected on our options, we have decided to appeal to the UK Supreme Court.
“This is not a decision we have taken lightly. It comes after wide consultation with our member companies and other parties to the case to see whether there is an alternative way forward.
“However, given our strong view that minimum pricing is incompatible with EU law and likely to be ineffective, we now hope that our appeal can be heard quickly in the UK Supreme Court.
"Having studied the ruling, we believe the Scottish court has not properly reviewed the legislation's compatibility with EU law as required by the European Court's judgment.
“We remain committed to working closely with the Scottish Government and everyone else who shares our common goal of tackling alcohol misuse. By working effectively in partnership we hope the long-term trend decline in alcohol-related harms in Scotland will continue."