Critics hit out at Scottish Government's minimum alcohol pricing plan


Critics of the Scottish Government's plans for minimum pricing have hit out at the proposed 50p-a-unit price, branding it a regressive charge which will treat drinkers “as if they're children to be nannied by the Government”.

Health campaigners have long backed the measure.

Dr Brian Keighley, chairman of the British Medical Association in Scotland, said minimum pricing could help to end the country's heavy-drinking culture.

The doctors' leader said: "I am proud that Scotland's politicians are once again leading the world on public health policy."

Drinks bodies claim the levy will penalise responsible drinkers and do nothing to tackle the causes of alcohol abuse.

That was the message from the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) which argued that a minimum unit price of 50p would see almost three-quarters of drinks prices in off-sales rise overnight.

It estimated a bottle of wine selling for £3.33 would rise to £5.06, while a £11.10 bottle of vodka would cost £13.13.

WSTA interim chief executive Gavin Partington said: "Hard-pressed consumers in Scotland can now see the true impact of the Scottish Government's policy. A minimum unit price of 50p will punish the majority of responsible consumers with higher prices, hitting the poorest hardest and will do nothing to tackle the root causes of alcohol misuse."

Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said the price of a one-litre bottle of blended Scotch whisky would increase by 22%, going from an average of £16.40 to a minimum of £20.

He claimed the charge would be "ineffective in tackling alcohol misuse" and also said it had "consistently been ruled to be illegal in Europe".

Mr Hewitt went on: "It will damage the industry. The Scottish Government's own research shows that minimum pricing will not reduce the number of hazardous drinkers."

Sam Bowman, head of research at economic think tank the Adam Smith Institute, was scathing of the charge, branding it "a miserable, Victorian-era measure that explicitly targets the poor and the frugal, leaving the more expensive drinks of the middle classes untouched".

He said: "It's regressive and paternalistic, treating people as if they're children to be nannied by the Government."

Britons "drink less than we did 10 years ago, less than we did 100 years ago and far less than we did in the 19th century".

Mr Bowman said: "Hysteria about drinking alcohol is a red herring invented by the health lobby. Health fascism is back with a vengeance and minimum alcohol pricing is just another brick in the wall."

But Dr Keighley said the proposed 50p unit charge will reduce the toll of alcohol on the health service, saying: "By setting the price at this level, it is estimated that in Scotland at least 8,600 alcohol-related hospital admissions and deaths will be prevented."

He hit out at supermarkets which "continue to sell high-alcohol products such as vodka and ciders at ridiculously cheap prices to entice customers to their store".

Dr Keighley said: "The trend for cheap alcohol and excessive consumption has a human cost. Alcohol-related illness causes one death every three hours in Scotland and the total healthcare costs are more than £268 million. This increasing cost could cripple the NHS with a financial burden that is no longer sustainable, especially in the current financial climate."

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association, which represents pubs and clubs, welcomed the measure.

Chief executive Paul Waterson hailed minimum pricing as a "brave step by the Scottish Government", saying: "The 50p-per-unit minimum price is an appropriate starting point which is fair and proportionate to help combat the low-cost sales of alcohol we see around us every day which contribute to the abuse of alcohol problems within Scotland."