Scotland leads world with start of minimum alcohol pricing

Scotland on Tuesday became the world’s first country to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol, in what its government expects will be a trailblazing move following years of legal battles.

“Scotland is the first country in the world being bold enough and brave enough to introduce minimum unit pricing,” Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told AFP.

“I think we will see countries across Europe and further afield look to replicate what has been done here in Scotland,” she added, noting Ireland and Wales were eager to roll out similar schemes.

The policy, designed to cut alcohol-related harm, will set a minimum price of 50 pence ($0.70, 0.57 euros) per unit of alcohol.

It has been welcomed by the medical profession and health campaigners as the biggest breakthrough in public health since the ban on smoking in public.

“This legislation will be life-saving,” said Alison Douglas, chief executive of the Alcohol Focus Scotland charity, who predicted it would save 58 lives in the first year.

“But the effect builds over time and by year 20—which is full effect—it will save 121 lives here in Scotland,” she added.

Audrey Duncan, 37, a recovering alcoholic from Glasgow whose life was devastated by the addiction, said the cheap price of booze had helped fuel it.

“I don’t think it (minimum pricing) would have put me off but I certainly would have run out of money quicker,” she added.

Whisky industry worries

Retailers said they expected minimal hits on some stock but had long been anticipating the scheme.

Linda Williams, proprietor of a store in Edinburgh, said it could “even out the playing field between supermarkets and local shops”.

“There will be no more heavy discounting on spirits and on big packs of beer which really have caused all the problems in the first place with alcohol,” she added.

The plan finally came into force this week after years of court wrangling delayed its introduction.

Britain’s Supreme Court last year backed the Scottish government’s move, declining an appeal by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) and other industry representatives to strike it down.

Seven judges in London unanimously ruled that such pricing is “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim” and does not breach European Union law.

That ended a half-decade legal battle which had gone all the way to the European Court of Justice in 2015.

Despite losing its appeal, a spokesperson for the SWA said the industry had worked “co-operatively” with the government to implement the scheme, “which we hope will be smooth”.

“We agree with the Scottish government that there needs to be an objective, independent and robust assessment of the impact of minimum unit pricing,” it added.

Sturgeon said she never believed it would damage Scotland’s lucrative whisky industry.

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