'Political courage' on drink pricing policy praised

Bottles of wine on store shelves Image copyright Thinkstock

The Scottish government has been praised for its "political courage" in attempting to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol.

It came from the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA) which aims to counter the health problems created by alcohol consumption.

Alcohol causes more than three million deaths around the world annually.

But the number of deaths linked to drinking has been falling in Scotland in recent years.

GAPA said it selected Scotland for its annual conference - being held in in Edinburgh from 7-9 October - because of the progressive approach it is taking to prevent alcohol harm, in particular the government's attempts to tackle cheap alcohol through minimum unit pricing (MUP).

Although MSPs passed a law in 2012 imposing a minimum unit price to try to cut the harm it can cause, its implementation has been held up by a legal challenge from the Scotch Whisky Association.

'Pay tribute'

Derek Rutherford, who chairs GAPA, said holding its annual conference in Scotland would acknowledge the work being done there to reduce the harm caused by alcohol.

"It provides the opportunity to acknowledge their advocacy strategies and to share in the experience of advocates in other regions and countries of the world," he said.

"Importantly, we can pay tribute to the Scottish government for the political courage it has shown to implement appropriate policy in the face of stiff opposition by the drinks industry."

Dr Mac Armstrong, chair of Alcohol Focus Scotland (AFS), the national charity working to reduce alcohol harm, said: "The Scottish government's plans to introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol will increase the price of the cheapest, strongest drinks.

"Unfortunately, the implementation of this innovative policy has been delayed due to a legal challenge from the alcohol industry.

"This action provides yet more evidence of the alcohol industry's role in seeking to prevent the implementation of alcohol policies that are going to be effective in reducing alcohol consumption and harm."

The main focus of the conference, which has attracted more than 400 delegates from 55 countries, is on protecting children from the promotion of alcohol.

European ruling

Research shows that exposure to alcohol marketing increases the likelihood that young people will start to drink, and to drink more if they are already drinking.

Alcohol is the world's fifth leading risk factor for disease, injury and disability. In eastern Europe, most of Latin America and southern sub-Saharan Africa it is the leading cause.

The number of alcohol-related hospital admissions in Scotland has been falling in recent years.

The legal challenges against MUP have been debated in the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

In September, the Advocate General at the ECJ issued an opinion saying minimum pricing would only be legal if it could be shown no other mechanism - such as taxation - were capable of delivering the desired public health benefits.

The Scottish government said that was exactly what minimum unit pricing could do.

A full ECJ ruling is expected early in 2016, when the matter will go back to the Court of Session in Edinburgh which has already ruled in favour of MUP.

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