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Scottish MPs urged to put health first in alcohol debate

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 12 February 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c894
  1. Bryan Christie
  1. 1Edinburgh

    More effective national and international action is needed to reduce the harm caused by alcohol, which is now responsible for as many deaths a year as HIV and AIDS, says a group of international specialists.

    They have intervened in the debate on introducing minimum pricing of alcohol in Scotland by writing an open letter to every member of the Scottish parliament urging them to act in the interests of health.

    The proposed legislation, which would make Scotland the first country in northern Europe to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol, has failed to win cross party support in the Scottish parliament, with Labour, the main opposition party, deciding to vote against the proposal. The scientists—Peter Anderson, a public health adviser to the World Health Organization; Thomas Babor, professor of health care at the University of Connecticut; Sally Casswell, director of the Centre for Social and Health Outcome Research and Evaluation at Massey University, New Zealand; and Robin Room, professor of social research in alcohol at the University of Melbourne, Australia—say that alcohol related harm is rising around the world owing to the increased availability, affordability, and promotion of alcohol. Nearly three million people a year now die an alcohol related death—a similar death toll to HIV and AIDS.

    They criticise the response of many governments that have introduced “weak policy measures” such as education and responsible drinking campaigns when tougher action is needed. “Strengthened regulatory controls on health damaging commodities such as alcohol are increasingly being viewed as necessary to limit health harm, and for the achievement of health equity,” they say.

    The four scientists welcome the action being taken in a number of countries. Russia has recently introduced a minimum retail price for vodka in an effort to stem consumption and harm. France, Italy, and Spain have restricted the availability of alcohol in response to rising rates of alcohol related harm, and Australia has increased alcohol taxes, particularly on drinks that appeal to young people.

    The Scottish government’s proposal to introduce minimum pricing is described as an innovative measure that is likely to have the most impact on the cheapest forms of alcohol. Although it has not been implemented in many places and has not been evaluated extensively, the scientists say that the evidence of effectiveness of price rises in reducing alcohol consumption is very strong.

    They conclude: “Our advice is that Scotland should implement a minimum price for alcoholic beverages, along with a strong evaluation of its effects. We look forward to the results of such an action, which will provide Scotland with concrete evidence as a basis for future policy and will also put Scotland in a position to lead and advise the world on this important initiative.”

    The Scottish government published its Alcohol Bill proposing minimum pricing in November but it will need to overcome opposition if it is to pass into law. The alcohol industry has also lobbied strongly against the measure (BMJ 2009;339:b5339, doi:10.1136/bmj.b5339).


    Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c894

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