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Alcohol-related deaths rise amid block on unit pricing

Doctors leaders in Scotland have expressed frustration that minimum unit pricing has still not been implemented as new figures show an increase in alcohol-related deaths.

Numbers of deaths related to alcohol rose by 5 per cent in 2014, following a 2 per cent rise the previous year, taking them to a total of 1,152 (784 male, 368 female).

The figures, from the National Records of Scotland, also show that alcohol-related deaths are around double those of the early 1990s, although progress has been made since the mid-2000s, when death numbers were around 1,500 per year.

BMA Scotland council chair Peter Bennie said it was disappointing to see the increase in alcohol-related deaths, and that the figures underlined the need to tackle Scotland’s culture of heavy drinking.

‘The Scottish Government has made great strides to introduce a comprehensive alcohol strategy, but it will inevitably be less effective without measures to deal with the affordability of alcohol and the proliferation of cheap, high-strength alcohol that fuels heavy drinking and causes the greatest harm,’ said Dr Bennie.

‘It is a continuing frustration that legislation to introduce minimum unit pricing of alcohol has been delayed due to the legal challenge by the SWA (Scotch Whisky Association).

‘We once again call on it to drop this appeal and allow the introduction of this innovative and world-leading public health policy.’

Scottish public health minister Maureen Watt accepted that more needed to be done.

She said: ‘There is no doubt that a key factor in alcohol-related harm is affordability.

‘This is why minimum unit pricing is such an important part of our package of measures to tackle the availability of cheap, high-strength alcohol that causes so much damage in our communities.’

The SWA has challenged introduction of a minimum unit price for alcohol, saying that it would be illegal, ineffective in tackling alcohol misuse, penalise responsible drinkers and out more pressure on household budgets, and damage the industry.

The challenge is now being considered in Europe.

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