Green light to set minimum pricing for alcohol

The tonic water has been on ice for some time, but the Scottish government has finally been given the go-ahead to introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol.

The UK Supreme Court this week ruled that the measure – passed overwhelmingly by the Scottish Parliament in 2012 – does not breach European law and can now proceed.

Following the unequivocal backing of the highest court in Scotland – and a referral to the European Court of Justice – the UK Supreme Court has now dismissed an appeal by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) and others, ruling that the proposed minimum unit pricing policy is appropriately targeted, lawful and proportionate.

Health Secretary Shona Robison welcomed the decision and confirmed she intends to make a statement to parliament shortly, setting out the next steps.

Prior to implementing the policy, ministers will now conduct a consultation on the proposed 50 pence per unit price and refresh the business and regulatory impact assessment that is required by parliament. Alcohol is currently available for sale at just 18 pence a unit.

Robison said the ruling is of “global significance”. Pressure will now increase in other countries, including England, to follow suit.

“This has been a long journey and in the five years since the Act was passed, alcohol related deaths in Scotland have increased,” Robison explained. “Given the clear and proven link between consumption and harm, minimum pricing is the most effective and efficient way to tackle the cheap, high strength alcohol that causes so much damage to so many families.”

Cancer Research UK said there is a “wealth of evidence [showing] that a minimum unit price for alcohol will save lives in Scotland. It will also save the NHS money.”

 The SWA accepted the decision, but called on the government to support the industry “against the negative effects of trade barriers being raised in overseas markets that discriminate against Scotch Whisky as a consequence of minimum pricing”.

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