Scotland’s war on booze abuse can claim a major victory

editorial image

The health lobby have joined forces with Scotland’s publicans to welcome the final victory of the long crusade to bring minimum pricing to off-trade drink sales.

The move has been bitterly resisted by the Scotch Whisky Association and major supermarket retailers for years, but in a historic ruling from the UK Supreme Court the Scottish Government has won its case - decisively and permanently.

In Falkirk as in any other large centre of population in Scotland, cheap drink produces its quota of alcohol casualties.

Contrary to what is often supposed, it isn’t weekend binge drinkers that are most likely to end up in hospital but serial addicts who quietly ingest poison, day after day, year after year.

Often irreparable damage has been done by the time they end up in NHS care.

Now it seems likely new policy measures will be fast-tracked to finally tackle the ultra-high abv “ciders” (which do not involve apples in production) and cheap vodkas said to cause much of the problem.

Some argue drink addicts will “only get it elsewhere”, but the thinking behind having a minimum price per unit is mainly about trying to do away with the concept of “cheap as water” booze that can be bought almost anywhere at a pocket-money price.

Dr Graham Foster, NHS Forth Valley’s Director of Public Health and Strategic Planning, told the Falkirk Herald: “Anything that can be done to reduce harmful levels of alcohol consumption and help tackle Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol is welcome.

“We look forward to seeing the positive impact these measures are expected to deliver locally and nationally.”

Rooney Anand, chied executive at UK pubs and beer firm Greene King, says he hopes Scotland brings in a new pricing regime as soon as possible - and that the English and Welsh authorities follow suit.

Scottish Licensed Trade Association chief executive Paul Waterson is also enthusiastic about the ruling, pointing out that nearly three quarters of all Scottish booze sales are from off-sales. and most of those off-sale purchases are made in supermarkets.

He is in agreement with the police, when he says: “When people drink in uncontrolled environments, alcohol-related problems increase significantly”.

But will it really make that much difference?

One notorious cheap strong “cider” brand is reckoned set to rocket in price from £3.59 to £11.25. while a typical cheap bottle of vodka is likely to cost a couple of pounds more.

A 12 per cent abv bottle of wine will not cost less than £4.50, and even the less aspirational brands of whisky are likely to come in at around £14 once new rules takes effect.

Those who spend most on drink relative to their income are facing a major price rise - while those who drink moderately, and pub drinkers, will (it’s argued) hardly notice the difference.

As with the contentious 2006 smoking ban (from which it’s been claimed the traditional pub trade never recovered) Scotland has blazed a trail the UK may again decide to follow.