Alcohol Bill published

27 Nov 2009 11:17 AM

Scotland has a 'once in a generation chance' to tackle the country's alcohol problems, Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said yesterday as the Alcohol Bill was published.

She said radical measures rooted in evidence were needed to help reduce the £2.25 billion cost of alcohol misuse to Scotland's public services and economy.

The Bill's key proposals include:

  • A minimum price per unit of alcohol to raise the cost of the cheapest ciders, lagers and low-grade spirits favoured by problem drinkers
  • A ban on irresponsible off-sales promotions which encourage excessive drinking
  • A duty on licensing boards to consider raising the off-sales purchase age to 21 where appropriate to develop local solutions to local problems
  • A power to introduce a 'social responsibility fee' on some retailers to offset the costs of dealing with drink problems

Ms Sturgeon said:

"The Alcohol Bill represents a once in a generation chance to turn around Scotland's drink problems.

"The 3,000 deaths, 42,000 hospital stays and 110,000 GP visits linked to alcohol annually are causing misery for families and communities, burdening our public services and sapping our economic potential.

"But simply acknowledging we have a problem is not enough. Now is the time for action. These targeted measures get to the heart of the problem - particularly addressing the rock-bottom pricing of low-grade ciders, lagers and spirits favoured by problem drinkers. No-one can seriously argue that selling strong drink for pocket money prices isn't fuelling heavy consumption.

"The eyes of the world are on Scotland to show that we have the courage to be bold for the sake of public health. I would urge everyone to unite behind this Bill."

Commenting on opposition to the minimum pricing proposals, Ms Sturgeon added:

"It is simply inexcusable that opponents have chosen not even to listen to the evidence around minimum pricing during the Bill process.

"They have dismissed out of hand the advice of all four UK Chief Medical Officers, the British Medical Association, the Royal Colleges of Nursing, Physicians, Surgeons and GPs, Faculty of Public Health, British Liver Trust, Scottish Licensed Trade Association, the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland and many others at the sharp end of dealing with alcohol misuse.

"While we have never said minimum pricing is a 'silver bullet', all the expert opinion agrees that is can have a major impact as part of our wider package of measures. By contrast, our opponents have failed to put forward any constructive alternatives.

"The Health Committee in the Scottish Parliament will begin to take evidence shortly and I predict that the weight of evidence in this debate in favour of minimum pricing will be overwhelming. At the end of that stage, for anyone to vote against that evidence will take some very serious explanation."

Harry Burns, Scotland's Chief Medical Officer, said:

"Doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers are clear that Scotland has a distinct problem with alcohol misuse which cuts across society and has got much worse in recent years.

"The evidence tells us that these problems are growing due to higher consumption, which has risen as the relative price of alcohol has fallen. To deny this causal link is counterintuitive.

"I am in no doubt that the measures outlined have the potential to save lives and reduce illness. But they will also help to initiate a culture change in Scotland's approach to alcohol, which has to be a good thing."

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said:

"Alcohol misuse is costing Scotland dearly. The effects are being felt not only in our health service, but in the criminal justice system as well.

"We hear far too often of the role alcohol has played when crimes are committed. Every weekend drunken behaviour puts a drain on the emergency services in our towns and cities. It's time to rebalance Scotland's relationship with alcohol and the Bill being published today will help do just that."