Scottish Government
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Tackling alcohol misuse

The Scottish Government yesterday published its framework for tackling Scotland's £2.25 billion alcohol misuse problem.

The strategy was launched by Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon and Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill with minimum pricing and local flexibility to ban off-sales to under-21s among its key elements in tackling what health experts regard as Scotland's most pressing public health concern.

Changing Scotland's Relationship with Alcohol: A Framework for Action aims to:

  • Introduce a minimum price for a unit of alcohol to stop strong drink being sold for 'pocket money prices'
  • Establish a legal obligation on licensing boards to consider whether alcohol-related problems in their area warrant an off-sales purchase age of 21, with local police Chief Constables able to request this at any time
  • Ban off-sales promotions such as 'three for two' and cut-price offers, which encourage bulk buying and over-consumption, and ban selling alcohol as a 'loss leader'
  • Restrict the display and marketing of alcohol products to specified areas in off-sales premises
  • Put in place the legal power to introduce a Social Responsibility Fee for some retailers, with details to be developed with stakeholders over the course of this year

Ms Sturgeon said:

"Our coherent strategy for stemming the tide of alcohol misuse is bolder than anything seen before in Scotland.

"The scale of Scotland's alcohol misuse problem is shocking: 42,500 alcohol-related hospital discharges; 1,500 deaths per year; soaring rates of liver cirrhosis; the eighth highest consumption in the world and a £2.25 billion annual cost in extra services and lost productivity.

"Plummeting prices and aggressive promotion have led to a surge in consumption, causing and adding to health problems ranging from liver and heart diseases to diabetes, obesity, dementia and cancers.

"We have listened to those who responded to the consultation and modified our proposals where appropriate. But we remain determined to press ahead with tough policies to tackle alcohol misuse.

"The time has come for serious action. It is no longer an option for anyone to simply talk about the problem of alcohol misuse but shy away from the action needed to tackle it, so I hope all Parliamentarians and others who care about Scotland's health will support the measures outlined today.

"With this strategy, Scotland has a chance to show real international leadership and to prove that we will not stand idly by while alcohol misuse wrecks our nation's health and quality of life."

Mr MacAskill said:

"Our efforts to make communities in Scotland safer and stronger are being undermined by the tide of cheap drink and the 'drinking to get drunk' culture that's rife in Scotland.

"Cheap, readily available alcohol is fuelling violent crime and anti-social behaviour, as well as taking its toll on our economy and health service. That's why we are taking action to ban irresponsible promotions and make sure alcohol is sold at a sensible price that reflects the strength of the product.

"I believe this is the right package of measures to make a real difference and change Scotland's relationship with the bottle for the better."

Those measures which require new legislation to implement will be included as part of the Scottish Government's forthcoming Criminal Justice and Licensing Bill.

As well as the measures outlined today, the Scottish Government has already introduced a range of measures to help tackle alcohol misuse including:

  • £120 million over the period 2008-11 to identify and treat alcohol problems
  • A target of 150,000 'brief interventions' by 2011, where people who present at GP surgeries and hospitals with symptoms that could be alcohol related are advised about sensible drinking guidelines
  • Creation of a Youth Commission on Alcohol, in conjunction with Young Scot, looking at the impact of alcohol misuse on young people
  • An intention to review advice for parents and carers about alcohol to allow them to pass on accurate advice on sensible drinking to their children

Dr Harry Burns, Chief Medical Officer, said:

"There is no doubt that alcohol misuse claims many hundreds of lives in Scotland every year - twice as many today as 15 years ago - and that it hits our poorest communities the hardest.

"It has become a major health, economic and social challenge for our people, a problem which is damaging families and communities across the country. We have a responsibility to do all we can to tackle it. In Scotland, we led the way on smoking and we can lead the way on alcohol misuse too."

The new framework for tackling alcohol misuse was welcomed by a spectrum of organisations and campaign groups.

Dr Peter Terry, Chairman of the British Medical Association in Scotland, said:

"Alcohol misuse costs the NHS more than £1 million every day and the human cost is far greater. The health consequences of alcohol misuse are serious and severe and with every week that goes by our understanding of the true scale and extent of these consequences grows.

"The BMA fully supports a wide-ranging strategy that tackles price and availability, which we consider are key to successfully addressing this problem. We strongly welcome the Scottish Government's recognition that alcohol misuse is widespread in Scotland and its commitment to lead the way in trying hard to address this issue both through short term measures and through long term culture change.

"We particularly welcome its proposals on minimum price and promotions, as evidence shows that the increased affordability of alcohol is driving the damaging levels of consumption in Scotland."

DCS John Carnochan, Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS) spokesman and Head of the Violence Reduction Unit, said:

"Alcohol has cost Scotland dearly. Through its significant contribution to violence, it has placed an immense financial burden on this country. But there are hidden costs - those to communities, relationships and lives that could have been better lived.

"As a country we should no longer be prepared to accept that price. Any measures that help reduce that cost are to be welcomed.

"Fundamentally, if you want to reduce violence then you need to reduce access to alcohol. We know that the group most at risk from violence is young males aged 10 -29, so if you limit access to alcohol in certain areas then it can only be a good thing, especially as it is done with local agreement and is locally relevant."

Professor Ian Gilmore, President, Royal College of Physicians and Chairman of the Alcohol Health Alliance (UK), said:

"We welcome the Scottish Government's lead, both in the UK and internationally, in advocating a minimum unit price for alcohol and announcing a comprehensive package of measures to tackle alcohol related- harm.

"We strongly support this evidence-based approach that is aimed at reducing overall alcohol consumption. The impact of a minimum unit price was in demonstrated in the Sheffield Review commissioned by the Department of Health and we would urge the UK Government to adopt a similar approach to that being taken in Scotland."

Jack Law, Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said:

"Alcohol Focus Scotland welcomes the publication of this Alcohol Framework which shows that the Scottish Government is leading the way in the world and taking seriously the need to address our harmful drinking culture.

"Regulating the price and availability of alcohol are the measures most effective in reducing alcohol consumption and related harm to individuals, families and society.

"Change won't happen overnight. But the combined efforts of Government, health and police services, the alcohol industry, licensed trade and the voluntary sector should ensure significantly fewer Scots' lives are affected by alcohol misuse."

Dr Bruce Ritson, chair of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), said:

"From today, Scotland will be seen as leading the way in both the UK and Europe in taking ground-breaking action to reduce alcohol harm. The action that the Scottish Government proposes is based on the best evidence we have about what works.

"We know that harm caused by alcohol is Scotland's biggest public health challenge, but we believe that the action outlined today offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to begin to reverse the huge increase in alcohol-related harm we have seen over the last thirty years.

"Anyone concerned about the health and well-being of the population of Scotland will welcome toady's announcement as it puts us firmly on the path of improving Scotland's public health for a generation."

Paul Waterson, Chief Executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said:

"We welcome the Scottish Government's focus on the irresponsible promotions and practices in off-sales.

"The link between excessive drinking and promotions and deep-discounting in off-sales - particularly supermarkets - is the major contributing factor we see with alcohol problems in Scotland.

"Not only does the SLTA agree with minimum pricing, it's a view shared by licensed trade leaders from the rest of the UK and Ireland."

Renfrewshire Council's Licensing Board Convenor, Councillor Cathy McEwan, said:

"We welcome the empowerment of local Licensing Boards in relation to raising the age of off-sales purchase.

"The pilots suggest there are positive outcomes from raising the purchase age to 21, in terms of reducing crime and anti-social behaviour.

"We think it is right that local Boards can make these decisions based on local circumstances, in order to protect local communities and young people themselves."

Councillor Andrew Roger, Chairman of Fife Licensing Board, said:

"The proposal to provide flexibility for Licensing Boards in raising the age for off-sales purchases 21 is an excellent way forward, enabling us to deal appropriately with local problems.

"The approach outlined today by the Scottish Government would help to deal with the problem on a local basis and give the public the re-assurance that we are listening to their views and taking action."

Councillor Ronnie McColl, Chairman of West Dunbartonshire Licensing Board said:

"This policy empowers local licensing boards and communities, to tackle head-on various problems of anti-social behaviour.

"The flexibility in deciding which areas can be deemed age-21 for off sales is a welcome addition for local licensing boards in our fight for safer communities."

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