SNP's alcohol plans crucial to win health battle

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The Scottish Government’s proposals to tackle the problems alcohol causes in our society will help to change Scotland’s drinking culture. SNP MSP Michael Matheson welcomed today’s announcement by the Scottish Government and condemned the short sighted approach being taken by opposition parties, alcohol and retail sales bodies. Today’s proposals have been given widespread backing by health and justice experts. Minimum pricing has also been endorsed by the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg and several MPs. The Scottish Government’s ‘Changing Scotland's Relationship with Alcohol: A Framework for Action’ aims to:  

  • Introduce a minimum price for a unit of alcohol to stop strong drink being sold for 'pocket money prices'
  • Establish a legal obligation on licensing boards to consider whether alcohol-related problems in their area warrant an off-sales purchase age of 21, with local police Chief Constables able to request this at any time
  • Ban off-sales promotions such as 'three for two' and cut-price offers, which encourage bulk buying and over-consumption, and ban selling alcohol as a 'loss leader'
  • Restrict the display and marketing of alcohol products to specified areas in off-sales premises
  • Put in place the legal power to introduce a Social Responsibility Fee for some retailers, with details to be developed with stakeholders over the course of this year

Mr Matheson said; “Today’s proposals tackle some of the fundamental issues behind our drinking problem – price and availability.  “Health and justice professionals, along with the UK Home Affairs Committee, Lib Dem and Labour MPs recognise that price and availability are key factors when it comes to alcohol misuse. “Labour and the Tories have failed to come up with a strategy to tackle alcohol misuse in Scotland.  Today's complaint from Labour is that the SNP is doing too much - a major contrast with Labour's "do little" attitude. "The best they can offer is to make "Challenge 21" mandatory - something that will happen anyway later this year. “Labour came late to the SNP’s argument for a smoking ban.  I hope they will see sense and support measures to tackle alcohol misuse sooner rather than later. “It is no surprise that large supermarkets object to losing their loss leading products but that only emphasises the irresponsible use of alcohol as a marketing tool for the retail industry.  Opposition parties can not defend that indefensible position. "We cannot afford another big killer in Scottish society and we can not afford to face a £2.5 billion cost every year as a result of our relationship with booze.  It is time for all parties to support Scotland's future and back action to tackle Scotland's booze culture." Ms Sturgeon said:   "Our coherent strategy for stemming the tide of alcohol misuse is bolder than anything seen before in Scotland. "The scale of Scotland's alcohol misuse problem is shocking: 42,500 alcohol-related hospital discharges; 1,500 deaths per year; soaring rates of liver cirrhosis; the eighth highest consumption in the world and a £2.25 billion annual cost in extra services and lost productivity. "Plummeting prices and aggressive promotion have led to a surge in consumption, causing and adding to health problems ranging from liver and heart diseases to diabetes, obesity, dementia and cancers. "We have listened to those who responded to the consultation and modified our proposals where appropriate. But we remain determined to press ahead with tough policies to tackle alcohol misuse.  "The time has come for serious action. It is no longer an option for anyone to simply talk about the problem of alcohol misuse but shy away from the action needed to tackle it, so I hope all Parliamentarians and others who care about Scotland's health will support the measures outlined today.  "With this strategy, Scotland has a chance to show real international leadership and to prove that we will not stand idly by while alcohol misuse wrecks our nation's health and quality of life."  Mr MacAskill said: "Our efforts to make communities in Scotland safer and stronger are being undermined by the tide of cheap drink and the 'drinking to get drunk' culture that's rife in Scotland "Cheap, readily available alcohol is fuelling violent crime and anti-social behaviour, as well as taking its toll on our economy and health service. That's why we are taking action to ban irresponsible promotions and make sure alcohol is sold at a sensible price that reflects the strength of the product.  "I believe this is the right package of measures to make a real difference and change Scotland's relationship with the bottle for the better."
ENDS Notes 1. House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, October 2008
“The cheap availability of alcohol in the off-trade is fuelling alcohol-related crime and disorder and under-age drinking” “We recommend the Government establish as soon as possible a legal basis for banning the use of loss-leading by supermarkets and setting a minimum price for the sale of alcohol.” 2. Private Members Bill - Alcohol Sales Bill Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab):"That leave be given to bring in a Bill to regulate prices charged for units of alcoholic drinks; to regulate point of sale promotions, advertising and labelling of alcoholic drinks; to establish an industry council to administer the regulation of prices and promotions; and for connected purposes." 10 Jun 2008 : Column 162 Supported by Ms Sally Keeble, Dr. Ian Gibson, Dr. Phyllis Starkey, Dr. Evan Harris, Lynda Waltho, Martin Salter, Mr. Don Foster, Margaret Moran, Mr. Charles Walker, Mr. Elfyn Llwyd, Mr. Gary Streeter and Ms Dawn Butler.   3. Nick Clegg (29 Sept 2008) calls for a minimum pricing on alcohol: "It is unacceptable for retailers, especially big supermarkets, to run a coach and horses through alcohol duties in order to sell alcohol well below its cost. "The immediate effect of below-cost alcohol is to tempt people to buy a lot more alcohol than would otherwise be the case. "As a rule, I don't believe governments should set prices, but when
retailers are deliberately distorting the market we need to take action. "That is why we should now look to the example of Ontario in Canada,
where a socially responsible minimum price for alcohol has been successfully implemented. "Alcohol related violence, disorder and illness is now one of the biggest problems we face. If supermarkets are not prepared to act responsibly it is time they are forced to do so."

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