Alcohol campaigners welcome preliminary opinion from European Court of JusticeBMJ 2015; 351 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h4756 (Published 04 September 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h4756
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Now that the Advocate General of the European Union has offered his opinion on minimum unit pricing, it is expected that the case will return to the Scottish courts where the issue of whether the policy is “appropriate” and “superior to alternative measures such as increased taxation” will be further debated. We welcome this as an opportunity for new evidence to be considered.
Minimum pricing was passed as legislation in Scotland in 2012 when alcohol-related deaths had been falling for a decade, albeit from very high levels. However, we have since seen a concerning increase in the number of people in Scotland dying due to alcohol. This coincides with the decline in population consumption flattening out, driven by more alcohol being sold through supermarkets and other off-licences in 2014 compared with recent years.
A number of factors might explain these trends. The recovery from recession has meant a recent increase in disposable incomes in Scotland and alcohol duty changes have helped to keep the price of some alcohol low. In fact, the average price of alcohol sold through off-sales was the same as in 2013, the first time that there hasn’t been an annual increase since 2007.3 Although we can’t attribute any changes specifically to these factors, there is good evidence to show that alcohol affordability – a combination of income and alcohol price – is one of the strongest drivers of alcohol consumption and related harms. Minimum unit pricing would offer an evidence-based policy that would make the cheapest alcohol less affordable, lower consumption at harmful levels and provide the context to ensure that these worrying trends are only temporary.
1. Christie B. Alcohol campaigners welcome preliminary opinion from European Court of Justice. BMJ 2015; 351 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h4756 (04 September 2015)
2. National Records of Scotland. Alcohol-related deaths.
3. Robinson M, Beeston C, McCartney G, Craig N. Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland’s Alcohol Strategy: Annual update of alcohol sales and price band analyses. Edinburgh: NHS Health Scotland; 2015. http://www.healthscotland.com/documents/25918.aspx
4. Rabinovich L, Brutscher P, de Vries H, et al. The affordability of alcoholic beverages in the European Union Understanding the link between alcohol affordability, consumption and harms. Cambridge: RAND Europe; 2009. http://www.rand.org/pubs/technical_reports/TR689.html
Competing interests: All authors are members of the project team responsible for monitoring and evaluating Scotland’s alcohol strategy. The authors declare that they have no other competing interests.