Scotland politics

Scotch Whisky Association challenges Scotland's minimum alcohol price law

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Media captionThe Scottish Whisky Association lodges a formal complaint with the European Commission

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has said it will challenge legislation on a minimum price for alcohol.

The law, which was overwhelmingly backed by MSPs earlier this year, would increase the price of some cheaper drink brands in Scotland.

The SWA said it had lodged a formal complaint to the European Commission over the legislation.

It will also seek a judicial review of minimum unit pricing for alcohol in the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

But the Scottish government believes its reforms, which will set a 50p minimum price for a unit of alcohol, are lawful, and has urged the alcohol industry to respect the will of the Scottish parliament.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said the policy "has the strong backing of those who work daily with the effects of alcohol misuse - our doctors, nurses, the police and public health experts".

She added: "It is a policy that also has growing support across the UK and internationally. Therefore, while we acknowledge their right to do so, we regret the decision of the SWA to challenge minimum pricing in the courts.

"The Scottish government believes that minimum pricing will save lives and reduce the harm caused by alcohol misuse. It is a targeted policy and will not penalise those who drink responsibly."

Ms Sturgeon pointed out that a sunset clause was inserted into the legislation, which she said "allows the policy to be tested in practice and for parliament to take a longer term decision based on actual experience."

She said: "We firmly believe that minimum pricing meets the legal tests required and we will vigorously defend this legal challenge, just as we did on asbestos and are doing on tobacco.

"Notwithstanding our difference of opinion on minimum pricing, we will continue to work constructively with the SWA in support of the whisky industry, which is both important and valuable for Scotland."

A recent survey of Scottish hospital intensive care departments found a quarter of admissions were alcohol-related.

'Harmful use'

The SWA claimed minimum pricing was not the way to tackle alcohol problems, and called for more targeted measures to be introduced instead.

It also said it believed the legislation breached EU trade rules by distorting the drinks market, and that the key legal test on alcohol minimum pricing at EU level is if it is a proportionate measure - which it said the 50p rate is not.

The trade association has been joined in its opposition by other UK and European Union wine, beer and spirits organisations and companies.

And it said it feared that other countries following Scotland's lead in introducing a minimum price could cost the Scotch whisky industry some £500m in exports.

Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said the legislation was "un-targeted, misguided and illegal".

He added: "We agree that Scotland must address the harmful use of alcohol, but policy needs to be targeted on the problem.

"Some 30% of those who drink, consume 80% of the alcohol sold. Despite warnings that minimum pricing of alcohol would be illegal, the Scottish government has pressed ahead with its ill-targeted policy and misguided legislation.

"Scottish Ministers repeatedly claimed during the Parliamentary process that as a premium product Scotch Whisky would not be affected by minimum pricing. The truth is now out.

"The Scottish government's own final impact assessment reveals 85% of Blended Scotch Whisky will be increased in price as a result of a minimum unit price of 50p."

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