Health Secretary Alex Neil will visit Brussels today (Thursday December 6), to put forward Scotland’s view on minimum unit pricing.
The plan, for a 50p levy per unit alcohol, have the backing of the Scottish Parliament as well as police and health workers. However the European Commission has expressed concerns that the SNP proposal may discriminate against imports.
Speaking ahead of the visit Mr Neil said:
“I’m grateful for this opportunity to meet lead officials from business and health departments in Brussels and highlight our view on minimum pricing.
“Minimum pricing has been agreed by Parliament and backed by expert opinion. We believe that the introduction of minimum pricing will be an effective and efficient way of tackling alcohol misuse, targeting those that are drinking the most.
“The point that I will make in Brussels is that minimum pricing can, and will, save lives. Recent studies have shown that hospital discharges have quadrupled since the early 1980s and deaths have more than doubled. Scottish alcohol sales have increased by 10% since 1994 and are now 20% higher per person than in England and Wales.
“Alcohol misuse is costing Scotland too much – potentially around £3.6 billion per year in extra services and productivity – a staggering figure that equates to £900 for every adult in our country.
“I firmly believe serious action is required to rebalance our unhealthy relationship with alcohol. That is why we remain absolutely committed to introducing minimum pricing in Scotland.”
The British Medical Association said:
“Doctors in the UK, and internationally, recognise the importance of introducing pricing mechanisms to reduce alcohol related health harm. One of the most effective ways to provide a targeted intervention is to increase the price of cheap, high alcohol content products.
“That is why the BMA has supported the introduction of legislation for a minimum unit price for alcohol in Scotland. It is important that the member states of the EU consider the positive health impacts of minimum pricing on their populations.
“There is clear evidence that increasing price will reduce consumption and thereby reduce the health harms associated with excessive drinking. While our position is based on evidence, industry opposition to minimum unit pricing is based on opinion and a primary concern about profits. The public health impact must take priority.”
The UK government are considering similar measures, with the unit levy being set at 45p. Westminster is reported to be arguing on the basis of public order as opposed to health.