Scotland introduces minimum unit pricing for alcohol

By Rachel Arthur contact

- Last updated on GMT

Pic:getty/DA69
Pic:getty/DA69

Related tags: Minimum unit pricing, Scotland, Alcohol

Scotland has become the first country in the world to introduce minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol, with legislation coming into effect this week.

As of yesterday (May 1), the legislation sets a minimum 50 pence (68 cents) per unit price as a measure to help tackle damage caused by cheap, high strength alcohol.

Legislation for MUP was passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2012 as part of its efforts to improve public health, but the move was challenged by drinks associations and tied up in legal proceedings until the UK Supreme Court ruled in November​ that MUP could go ahead.

‘Most effective and efficient way’ to tackle alcohol abuse

On average Scotland sees 22 alcohol-specific deaths and 697 hospital admissions every week. Alcohol misuse is estimated to cost Scotland £3.6bn ($4.9bn) a year and the country has the highest rate of alcohol-related deaths in the UK.

Prior to the introduction of MUP, it was possible to buy 14 units of alcohol (the government’s low risk drinking guidelines for one week) for just £2.52 ($3.44).

MUP sets the lowest price an alcoholic drink can be sold for: and the Scottish government says MUP is expected to save 392 lives in the first five years.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “I am extremely proud that the eyes of the world will once again be on Scotland with the introduction of this legislation.

“Our action is bold and it is brave, and shows once again that we are leading the way in introducing innovative solutions to public health challenges.

“It’s no secret that Scotland has a troubled relationship with alcohol.

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

Opponents of MUP argue there is no link between alcohol price and reduction in alcohol related harm, and say that MUP distorts competition by penalizing efficient low-cost producers of alcohol.

While drinks associations – led by the Scotch Whisky Association – had challenged MUP in the courts, they accepted November’s ruling from the UK Supreme Court and asked for objective assessment of the impact of MUP.

Spirits are likely to face the greatest impact from MUP,​ but wine and premium brands could benefit from the legislation. 

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