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Scottish court gives go-ahead to minimum alcohol pricing

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i5720 (Published 24 October 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i5720
  1. Anne Gulland
  1. London

The drinks industry in Scotland has been urged to accept a ruling that a minimum price for a unit of alcohol is legal. The Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled on 21 October that the Scottish parliament had acted in its powers when it passed a bill implementing a minimum price of 50p (€0.56; $0.61) for a unit.

The Scotch Whisky Association, alongside other bodies representing the alcohol industry, has waged a legal battle against the bill since it was passed in 2012, arguing that it contravened European Union law.

In December 2015 the European Court of Justice said that the bill could have the effect of restricting the market but that the national court would make a final decision on its legality.1 2

David Frost, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said that the association would study the details of the judgment “before deciding on next steps, including any possible appeal to the UK Supreme Court.”

Aileen Campbell, minister for public health and sport in Scotland, urged the drinks industry to end its legal battle and “respect the democratic will of the Scottish parliament and the ruling of the Court of Session.”

She added, “This policy was passed by the Scottish parliament unopposed more than four years ago . . . Today’s ruling is a landmark one and should mark the end of the legal process, allowing this important policy to finally be brought forward.”

The association had argued that minimum pricing would not tackle problem alcohol use and would penalise responsible drinkers. However, Derek Bell, president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, said that the measure was one of the most effective ways of reducing harm from excessive drinking.

He said, “To reduce alcohol related harm, consumption has to decrease, and the most effective mechanism of achieving this is to increase the price of alcohol. Excessive consumption not only harms individuals but can have a devastating impact on their families, communities, and the health service.”

Peter Bennie, chair of BMA Scotland, urged the government to implement the bill as a matter of urgency. He said, “Every year that has been lost to the alcohol industry’s delaying tactics has brought with it a human cost in lives lost and health damaged. The alcohol industry needs to accept today’s judgment and stop attempting to put their own agenda ahead of the public interest.”

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