Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Under the influence

Lessons from Scotland’s experience of alcohol pricing

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g1513 (Published 25 February 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g1513
  1. Peter Rice, chair1
  1. 1Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems, Edinburgh EH2 1JQ, UK
  1. peter.rice{at}nhs.net

For those looking to learn from the Scottish experience of the implementation of alcohol minimum unit pricing, there are relevant issues other than those covered by Gornall.1

After Scotland’s first alcohol action plan in 2002, the monitoring work of the Information Services Division of NHS Scotland was crucial in making the case that action was needed. The Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland’s Alcohol Strategy team’s more recent publications continue this work.2

The alcohol industry has not acted as a single entity. From the 1980s, trends towards higher levels of drinking at home, driven by cheap supermarket products, were evident to practitioners. This move away from the potentially moderating pub environment was also of concern to others. The independent pub trade in Scotland, led by the Scottish Licensed Trade Association and supported by Tennent Caledonian and Brewdog, were early supporters of minimum unit pricing. Brewdog showed where the interests of health advocates and craft brewers coincided, saying of minimum pricing plans, “The proposals will mean that the multi-national corporate hammerheads no longer be allowed to discount their liquid cardboard to embarrassingly pathetic levels . . . Craft brewers can’t, and shouldn’t, discount their beers and sustain losses.”3

The Scottish Nationalist Party is well informed and ambitious on alcohol policy. The international recognition it has had is well deserved. However, the Scottish Greens have long supported minimum unit pricing, the Liberal Democrats have supported it since 2011, and the Scottish Conservatives since March 2012. Labour abstained in the May 2012 vote, and minimum price legislation was passed without opposition.

So the Scotch Whisky Association (membership includes vodka manufacturers—vodka now outsells whisky by 40% in Scotland4) is opposing many other parts of the alcohol industry as well as parliament. Minimum pricing has passed the scientific, political, and legal tests so far. The Scotch Whisky Association should match the responsible stance of other industry groups, accept defeat in the courts, and let the Scottish government get on with implementation and evaluation.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g1513

Footnotes

References

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