Scotland Announces Minimum Alcohol Pricing Will Begin 1 May 2018

Wednesday 22nd November 2017

The Scottish Government has announced that from the beginning of May next year, there will be a minimum price for alcohol, in a move to curb the increases in alcohol related deaths.

The Health Secretary, Shona Robison MSP, told Members of the Scottish Parliament that minimum pricing was necessary to tackle the devastating effects of cheap, high strength alcohol, such as super-strength beers, ciders and low cost spirits.

Ms Robison suggested the price would be set at 50p a unit, subject to a consultation period, which would lead to some marked increases in pricing for low price alcohol in supermarkets. It is believed that this will not affect pricing for more expensive drinks as well as sales in pubs, clubs and restaurants.

A unit of alcohol according to government guidelines is the equivalent of a shot of 40% ABV whiskey, half a glass of wine, a third of a pint of beer. So this guideline would lead to minimum prices for example of £14 for a 700ml bottle of 40% ABV whiskey, £1 for a 500ml can of lager, and £4.69 for a bottle of red wine. This is a substantial increase from the lowest prices found at some supermarkets and off-licenses, which can sell super-strength cider and lager, own brand vodka and whisky for as little as 18p per unit.

It has been something of a challenge for the incumbent Scottish National Party to bring in minimum alcohol pricing legislation, with the original plans for the statute being passed as early as 2012. A legal challenge by the Scotch Whisky Association continued for five years, up to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, where they made the argument that minimum pricing legislation was a “proportionate means” of ensuring a “legitimate aim” was achieved. The aim being to reduce harmful alcohol consumption.

With an increasing death toll related to alcohol, minimum pricing has been welcomed by alcohol awareness groups and health bodies, although there have been arguments that the government could go further with its pricing.

The actual price setting is to be determined in secondary legislation, and while the suggested figure is 50p per unit, there are arguments being made that a higher minimum price may be required to counter the effects of inflation. The people arguing this includes Dr Chris Holmes, who worked on a large amount of the initial research into minimum pricing.

Dr Holmes notes that roughly half of all alcohol in Scotland is lower than 50p per unit, much lower than in 2012, where the figure was closer to three-quarters. This means that the minimum price policy would be significantly less effective at 50p now than it would have been in 2012.

Another controversial part of the policy is that all money raised by the increase is kept by the retailer, producing a projected windfall of £125 million. The initial legislation was opposed by the opposition Scottish Labour party on these grounds.

It is potentially a very strong positive policy to help improve the health of people in Scotland, although it will be interesting to see the results of studies into its effectiveness and knock on effects.