Scottish medical professions eagerly await Supreme Court go-ahead for Alcohol Minimum Unit Pricing

26 July 2017: The Scottish medical professions have been paying close attention to the arguments presented in the UK Supreme Court this week in relation to Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP), which would mean that no alcohol could be sold in Scotland at less than 50 pence per unit.

Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) was established in 2006 as a partnership of the Scottish Medical Royal Colleges, concerned about the growing number of hospitalisations and deaths due to alcohol in Scotland. In 2007, SHAAP and its partners made one of the first public calls for action to introduce MUP to tackle the problem of cheap alcohol that was doing most damage to the most vulnerable drinkers and their families.

The Scottish Parliament passed MUP into law in Scotland in 2012, but the policy has yet to be implemented due to the series of legal challenges to the policy, funded by global alcohol producers, fronted by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA). This has included referral to the European Court of Justice, which returned the decision-making to the Scottish Courts, which concluded resoundingly in favour of the Scottish Government’s policy on the two occasions when they considered it. Only the UK Supreme Court judges’ ruling can now prevent the MUP policy being implemented, hopefully early in 2018.

In the five years since the implementation of the Scottish MUP law has been delayed, approximately 5,700 heavy drinkers reliant mainly on cheap vodka and white cider, have died as a result of alcohol-related causes. Currently, in Scotland, 22 people die every week due to their drinking, many of them in their early fifties. Implementing MUP would be one of the most effective measures in helping problem drinkers to cut down on their risky consumption. The policy is supported by most Scottish people, as well as doctors and health professionals.

Dr Eric Carlin, Director of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) said:

“As representatives of front line medical practitioners and public health, we have praised the Scottish Government’s continued commitment to MUP as a key policy that, along with other evidence-based policies, will reduce alcohol harms in Scotland. We have consistently been shocked by the disregard for Scottish lives by the global alcohol producers, fronted by the Scotch Whisky Association, who have used financial muscle and spurious, changing arguments to block the implementation of MUP.

“The policy became law in 2012, without any opposition in the Scottish Parliament. We keenly await the Supreme Court judgement, which we hope will come soon. We are confident that their Lordships will favour this life-saving policy, which we hope will now be implemented in Scotland, with as little delay as possible.”

Dr Peter Rice, Chair of SHAAP, said:

“In the Supreme Court on Monday and Tuesday the Scotch Whisky Association argued that the Scottish Government should be prevented from introducing Minimum Unit Pricing because they can increase tax on alcohol as an alternative. Yet less than two weeks ago, the SWA called on the UK Government to cut duty on spirits. This is the behaviour of a self-interested, opportunist organisation and industry. Their claims to be concerned about the harm caused by alcohol have no credibility and they should be allowed no role in the formulation of alcohol policy.”