Half a decade after the law should have come into force, Scotland is set to implement a minimum unit price for alcohol after the supreme court ruled that it could legally do so.
Doctors leaders welcomed the ruling, which followed a prolonged series of legal challenges from the Scotch Whisky Association. The minimum price is likely to be set at 50 pence per unit.
BMA Scottish council chair Peter Bennie said the move would save lives – and called on the rest of the UK to follow suit.
‘Today’s decision is great news for everyone whose priority is to reduce the harms caused by alcohol misuse,’ said Dr Bennie. ‘It has been a long road, but this judgement makes it clear that minimum unit pricing is legal.
‘As doctors we see every day the severe harms caused by alcohol misuse and the damage it causes to individuals and their families. There are no easy solutions, but minimum unit pricing can make a significant contribution to reducing these harms and saving lives.
‘Today’s judgement should open the door for swift implementation of the policy in Scotland, but also show the UK’s other governments that they can and should take similar action.’
The Scottish Parliament passed legislation to introduce a minimum price per unit of alcohol in 2012 but the policy has been unable to take effect following a series of legal challenges by the alcohol industry.
The supreme court judgement that the proposal complies with European law means the policy can go ahead.
The most recent figures found that alcohol-related deaths in Scotland increased by 10 per cent last year, taking the total to 1,265 – the highest it has been since 2010.
Health secretary Shona Robison welcomed the announcement and will make a statement to the Scottish Parliament shortly, setting out the Scottish Government’s next steps.
‘This is a historic and far-reaching judgement and a landmark moment in our ambition to turn around Scotland’s troubled relationship with alcohol.
‘In a ruling of global significance, the UK supreme court has unanimously backed our pioneering and life-saving alcohol pricing policy.
‘This has been a long journey and in the five years since the act was passed, alcohol-related deaths in Scotland have increased. With alcohol available for sale at just 18 pence a unit, that death toll remains unacceptably high.
‘Given the clear and proven link between consumption and harm, minimum pricing is the most effective and efficient way to tackle the cheap, high-strength alcohol that causes so much damage to so many families.
‘So we will proceed with plans to introduce minimum unit pricing as quickly as possible. I intend to make a statement to Parliament shortly setting out our next steps, including our preferred implementation timetable and how we will engage with retailers and industry to make this a success.’
She said the Scotch Whisky Association was within its rights to have made the challenge.
The BMA has a history of campaigning for measures to reduce the harmful impact of alcohol, including MUP, reducing the drink driving limit and alcohol and pregnancy.
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