Scotland is set to become the first country in the world to set a minimum price for alcohol as a way of improving public health after the Scotch Whisky Association lost an appeal against the plan at the UK’s highest court.
The SWA, with other sections of the drinks industry, argued the move to impose a 50p minimum price per unit for alcohol would be “disproportionate” and illegal under European law.
But seven judges at the Supreme Court unanimously backed the Scottish Government, ruling that the plan passed by MSPs five years ago but held up in legal battles could now go ahead.
Ministers have promised to move as quickly as practicable, and it is thought the legislation could come into force early next year.
The proposal is backed by health professionals and would make the price of a bottle of spirits at least £14, the cheapest bottle of wine £4.69, and a four-pack of 500ml cans of lager at least £4.
The intention is to target problem drinkers by hitting the price of strong alcohol that is sold at low prices, and is unlikely to affect pubs. It would mean the price of a two litre, mid-range bottle of cider, jumping from £3.99 to £7.50.
The Supreme Court decided the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 is compatible with EU law and said the plan was appropriately targeted, lawful and proportionate.
Shona Robison, Scotland's Health Minister, welcomed the ruling and said she would make a statement to the Scottish Parliament shortly to set out the government's next steps. The government is to conduct a consultation on the policy before implementation.
Ms Robison said: "This is a historic and far-reaching judgment and a landmark movement in our ambition to turn around Scotland's troubled relationship with alcohol.
"In a ruling of global significance the UK Supreme Court has unanimously backed our pioneering and life-saving alcohol pricing policy."
Campaigners backing the plan said thousands of people had died from alcohol-related problems while the court cases went on.
Karen Betts, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said it accepted the ruling on minimum unit pricing (MUP), but added that the Scottish and UK Governments should now support the industry against the possibility of trade barriers being raised overseas to discriminate against Scotch as a result of the policy.
She added: “This is vital in order that the jobs and investment the industry provides in Scotland are not damaged. At home, we hope to see an objective assessment of the impact of MUP.”
The SWA said it would work in partnership with the government and voluntary sector to “promote responsible drinking and tackle alcohol-related harm”.
The decision comes after a protracted legal battle which saw the the association lose its challenge to the policy in the Scottish courts. The policy was approved by MSPs at Holyrood in 2012.
Dr Peter Bennie, chairman of BMA Scotland, said the decision was great news for everyone who wanted to reduce the harm caused by alcohol misuse, adding: "As doctors we see every day the severe harms caused by alcohol misuse and the damage it causes to individuals and their families. There are no easy solutions, but minimum unit pricing can make a significant contribution to reducing these harms and saving lives.
“Today’s judgment should open the door for swift implementation of the policy in Scotland, but also show the UK’s other Governments that they can and should take similar action."
The whisky association’s lawyers told the Supreme Court there were “a whole number of ways in which pricing can legitimately be used in accordance with EU law to achieve those aims”.
They suggested raising excise duty might be one way of increasing the price and achieving the same health benefits.
The SWA claimed alternative pricing measures would be less disruptive to free trade, cause less distortion of competition across the EU single market, and have the same effect on public health.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/11 ... m-pricing/
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