EDINBURGH (Reuters) – Scotland, globally known for its whisky production, is to become one of the first countries in the world to introduce minimum alcohol pricing in an attempt to tackle a worsening public health problem.
The landmark move was announced by Britain’s Supreme Court after a five-year legal battle in which the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), the industry lobby, lost an appeal.
The British drinks industry is already grappling with an uncertain outlook after Britain’s exit from the European Union. The SWA called for government help to overcome trade barriers and protect jobs in Scotland.
Major distillers Diageo, Pernod and Remy Cointreau were not immediately available to comment.
Alcohol-related deaths in Scotland have risen 10 percent since 2015, and the government says Scotland’s troubled relationship with alcohol is significantly worse than the rest of the UK, with 17 percent more alcohol sold per adult in Scotland than in England and Wales in 2016.
The Scottish government has prepared for the introduction of a minimum preferred price per unit of 50 pence ($0.66) per unit, meaning that four 440 ml cans of five percent strength lager would cost at least 4.40 pounds, a 12 percent alcohol bottle of wine would cost at least 4.50 pounds, and a 70 cls bottle of whisky could not be sold for less than 14 pounds.
“Given the clear and proven link between consumption and harm, minimum pricing is the most effective and efficient way to tackle the cheap, high-strength alcohol that causes so much damage to so many families,” Scottish health minister Shona Robison said in a statement. The move would be introduced as quickly as possible, she said.
In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court said: “Minimum pricing is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.”
The SWA had argued that there are alternative pricing measures which are less disruptive of free trade and less distortive of competition and are equally effective. It said it accepted the ruling, however.
“We will now look to the Scottish and UK Governments to support the industry against the negative effects of trade barriers being raised in overseas markets that discriminate against scotch whisky as a consequence of minimum pricing,” SWA’s Chief Executive Karen Betts said in a statement.
On average, alcohol misuse causes about 670 Scottish hospital admissions and 24 deaths a week, almost 1.5 times higher than in the early 1980s.
Editing by Stephen Addison