Scotland’s minimum pricing policy for alcohol, to be fixed at 50p a unit, will come into force on 1 May 2018, the Scottish health secretary has announced.
In a statement at Holyrood, Shona Robison said ministers were keen to introduce minimum unit pricing (MUP) as soon as possible and would be unveiling a consultation paper on its implementation next week.
She told MSPs it had been estimated that a minimum price of 50p, aimed at stopping the sale of cut-price, high-alcohol drinks such as cider, would cut the number of alcohol-related deaths in Scotland by 392 in the first five years and reduce hospital admissions by 8,254 cases.
“There were 1,265 alcohol-related deaths last year, up 10% on 2015, while just today we see statistics showing a 2% annual increase in alcohol-related hospital stays,” she said.
“These numbers are completely unacceptable. Behind every one of these statistics is a person, a family and a community. With alcohol on sale today at just 18 pence a unit, we have to act to tackle the scourge of cheap, high-strength drink that causes so much damage.”
Jackson Carlaw, the Scottish Conservatives’ deputy leader, said he welcomed the announcement but said it was essential that both the policy and the effectiveness of a 50p price, which was first agreed five years ago, were closely monitored.
“There is a discussion to be had about the 50p rate,” Carlaw said. “Not only is that figure now five years old, but will it be suitable for another five years as this policy develops? We sincerely hope this legislation leads to a reduction in the number of lives lost in Scotland to alcohol.”
After pressure from the Tories, the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 includes for the first time in Scotland a “sunset” clause, under which the act lapses unless it is re-enacted by a vote at Holyrood six years after it comes into force. It also commits the Scottish government to carry out a full review of its effectiveness after five years.
The introduction of MUP, which was declared legal under EU law by the supreme court last week, follows a five-year legal battle against the policy by alcohol producers, spearheaded by the Scotch Whisky Association.
With the Welsh government also planning to implement it, the SWA fears that minimum pricing in the UK will legitimise proposals by other governments to raise tariffs on whisky exports, hitting sales.
It is pressing Philip Hammond, the chancellor, to reduce whisky duty in Wednesday’s budget to help ease the pressure on the industry. A minimum price of 50p a unit will force up the base price of an average 70cl bottle of whisky to £14.